Ryan Doumit’s future position, Part 1

While Ryan Doumit has missed much of the season due to wrist surgery, Jason Jaramillo has stepped in and provided above average offensive production and good defense. Because of this, many are questioning Doumit’s future position with the club. Doumit was in the process of transitioning to a first baseman/outfielder a couple of years ago before winning the starting catcher spot in 2008. As Adam LaRoche approaches free agency and the Pirates undoubtedly shop him in the trade market, first base is a major question mark in the near future. So I figured I would take a look at what a position switch would do to Doumit’s overall value.

I used Doumit’s 2008 value from FanGraphs as a starting point.

Batting Fielding Replacement  Positional RAR WAR
2008 15.8 15.5  8.6 39.9 4.0

As you can see, FanGraphs ignores the fielding section for catchers due to the uncertainty in quantifying their effect on the game. Assuming that Doumit is a slightly below average defensive catcher, let’s knock off five runs and call him a 3.5 win player.

For simplicity, let’s also assume that he would be worth -5 defensive runs at first base. As a catcher, Doumit accumulated 465 plate appearances in 2008. As a first baseman, let’s estimate that he would amass 500 plate appearances in a generally healthy season. With the same 2008 offensive production, that would bump him up to about 17 offensive runs.

We have now accounted for the first two columns; 17 batting runs and -5 fielding runs. Let’s move to the positional adjustment column, the most important in this situation. A catcher receives +12.5 runs per 162 games, while a first baseman receives -12.5 runs per 162 games. After accounting for playing time in 2008, Doumit received an additional 8.6 runs. If he played 143 games at first base (500 PA at 3.5 PA/game), he would lose about 11 runs in the positional adjustment.

To account for playing time and to convert the value to replacement level, each player receives 20 runs per 600 plate appearances. At 500 plate appearances, Doumit would be rewarded with 16.7 runs. We have now filled all of our columns.

Batting Fielding Replacement  Positional RAR WAR
2008 (catcher) 15.8 -5 15.5  8.6 34.9 3.5
Expected (first base) 17 -5 16.7  -11 17.7 1.8

As you can see, assuming equal offensive production and accounting for some increased playing time at first base, Doumit would see his value cut in half. That is a dramatic decrease, one that shows just how valuable it is to have good offensive production coming from behind the plate. Jaramillo would have to greatly outperform the next best option at first base to make this move worthwhile.

Coming up in Part 2, I will take a look at Doumit’s expected value in right field.


For details on calculating individual player value, see the FanGraphs glossary.

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Charlie Saponara

I was thinking this very thing earlier today when I read the “In Defense of Tony Sanchez” article on fangraphs.com. Sanchez seems like a solid defensive catcher that could rise quickly through the system and be a plus defensive catcher that contributes nicely to the bottom of a batting order. Given that assumption, Ryan Doumit would obviously be playing another position. Nice rundown of his value given a switch to 1B. As someone focused more on fantasy baseball, I think what you point out does draw some parallels to his value as a fantasy catcher as opposed to a fantasy firstbaseman. I’ll be looking forward to the next article on a possible move to right field.

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