Head-to-Head Risers and Fallers for Week 9

Jason Miller

Alex Kantecki identifies three risers and three fallers in head-to-head points leagues, including Kendrys Morales, J.J. Hardy and Mike Minor.

Risers

Kendrys Morales

Morales flew a bit under the radar when he was traded from the Angels to the Mariners for starting pitcher Jason Vargas, but Seattle's designated hitter has hit an impressive .301/.375/.484 with six home runs, 21 runs and 28 RBI through his team's first 49 games. In the Official Fake Teams Head-to-Head Points League, Morales has scored 123 points -- the 16th most points among first basemen -- which is more than Allen Craig, Joe Mauer, Billy Butler and Freddie Freeman. Morales' comeback has been aided by a .342 BABIP, but his line drive and fly ball rates are all up from the previous two years. While it's hard to imagine Morales hitting more than 20 home runs with a 32.2% fly ball rate, he's on pace for 51 doubles, which would set a career high in that category (he hit 43 in 2009). Morales is also showing greater discipline at the plate with a career-best 8.7% walk rate and a strikeout rate of 16.3% (down from 22.2% in 2012). Feel comfortable starting Morales at first base in leagues deeper than 14 and as a corner infield or utility role in standard formats.

J.J. Hardy

Not many current shortstops can claim that they have a 30-homer season on the back of their baseball card, but J.J. Hardy is one of the few who can. Hardy hit 30 just two years ago -- his first year on the Orioles -- and followed it up with 22 home runs, 85 runs and 68 RBI in 2012. So far in 2013, Baltimore's shortstop is hitting .240/.275/.425 with 9 home runs, 21 runs and 31 RBI through 51 games, which puts him on pace 29 home runs, 67 runs and 98 RBI. I'd easily bet the under on the home runs and RBI, but given his decent start to the campaign, Hardy's low ownership rate (69% Yahoo!) surprises me. Hardy definitely falls under the category of "better in points leagues" because of his relatively low strikeout totals. This year it's no different, as Hardy has posted a career-best 11.3% strikeout rate. While Hardy's contact rates are nearly identical to last year, his swinging rates are a tad higher so you could see another sub-.240 season. But don't let that detract you from Hardy in points leagues, whose 123 points is ninth most among all middle infielders.

Mike Minor

Wins are a big factor in determining a starting pitcher's value in points league, so it's no surprise that the top guys all have wins north of five. Minor is no different with a 6-2 record (to go along with a 2.47 ERA and 0.93 WHIP), but he's been getting it done with improvements across the board. Minor has upped his K/9 rate from 7.28 to 8.36 and dropped his BB/9 rate from 2.81 to 1.92. His swinging strike rate is up 7.8% to 10.2%, and his HR/FB rate has dropped from 11.7% to 8.2%. The only red flag is an increased fly ball rate, so his home run totals could move in the wrong direction soon. Minor gave up 26 long balls last year, and so far in 2013 he's given up seven in 10 starts. But I don't think that will turn into a real issue if he continues to exhibit great control, which started in the second half of last season. Minor should continue to be a strong No. 2 for fantasy staffs.

Fallers

Adam LaRoche

I looked to acquire Adam LaRoche in multiple leagues as a player who is seemingly always passed over on draft day, but Washington's veteran first baseman hasn't returned the favor. After hitting 33 home runs and driving in 100 in 2012, LaRoche is hitting .235/.316/.422 with eight home runs, 22 runs, 23 RBI and two steals through 48 games. The power is still there (.187 ISO), but the biggest detractor in points league is his career-worst 28.3% strikeout rate (up from 21.3% in 2012). LaRoche is a notorious second-half player, so the possibility of a turnaround is there, but at 33, the likelihood is probably lessened to a degree. Despite swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, LaRoche's contact rate on pitches thrown inside the strike zone has plummeted from 87% to 83.3%, which shows up in his lowly .235 batting average. LaRoche has hit five home runs in his last 12 games, so I'd still advise rostering Washington's first baseman, but keep in mind that his value in points leagues isn't as strong.

Alcides Escobar

I was all-in on Alcides Escobar this season but I've been a little disappointed in his early-season performance. Through 48 games, the Royals shortstop is hitting .254/.281/.333 with three home runs, 18 runs, 18 RBI and 10 steals. The power has been a nice surprise (he hit five home runs all of last season) and he's on pace for another 35 or so steals, but his average is nowhere close to last season's .293, and his run production is a little light in my estimation (he's on pace for 61 runs after scoring 68 a year ago). Outside of Alex Gordon, Kansas City's entire lineup has been underperforming, meaning Escobar's run scoring chances haven't fully been there. I might just be nitpicking about the average, but I expected Escobar to maintain an average north of .270 (he hit .293 last season). One positive development has been a big decrease in his strikeout rate, from 15.4% to 9.9%, but he's still not taking any walks (eight in 202 at-bats). That doesn't help him any in points leagues, where he has scored fewer points than Andrelton Simmons, Omar Infante and Brandon Crawford.

Kris Medlen

Few if any expected Kris Medlen to replicate his magical 2012 campaign. Last season, the Braves late-season ace won nearly every start he made, going 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 12 starts down the stretch. But this year, it's a completely different story, as the Braves starter is just 1-5 despite a 3.16 ERA (and 1.32 WHIP) in 10 starts. Like last year, Medlen has been lucky as indicated by his 4.52 FIP, 4.52 xFIP and 4.45 SIERA. His strikeouts are down (7.83 K/9 in 2012; 6.75 in 2013), his walks are way up (1.50 BB/9 in 2012; 3.30 in 2013), and he's already allowed six home runs after giving up just eight all of last year. With a career-high 138 innings pitched last season, I had my doubts whether Medlen could pitch a full season this year. One thing that concerns me is that his fastball velocity is below 90 for the first time in his career, which could be wear-and-tear from last season's workload. If there's an owner willing to overlook the wins and focus on the ERA, there might still be a shot to sell Medlen off. I don't think he'll make it through the entirety of the season.

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