Head-to-Head Risers and Fallers: James Loney, Starling Marte and More

Mike McGinnis

Identifying risers and fallers in head-to-head points' leagues for Week 5, including Rays first baseman James Loney and Indians outfielder David Murphy.

Risers

James Loney, Rays (39.8% ESPN, 18% Yahoo)

Among first basemen, James Loney is ninth overall with 66 points - one behind the Reds' Joey Votto. The 29-year-old finished just inside the top-25 first basemen a year ago after registering his best offensive numbers since 2010 with the Dodgers. Loney has had a modest start to the season with one home run, 10 runs, 15 RBIs and one steal, but his .292 batting average and .366 on-base percentage currently have him inside the top-10 first basemen in points' leagues. He has more walks than strikeouts (10 walks, seven strikeouts), and a strong batting average and on-base percentage appears sustainable with his batted ball profile and skillset; Loney owns a career .341 OBP, including a .348 mark in 2013. He already has more RBI than at this point last season, so reaching 80 RBIs is a possibility (he had 75 RBIs in 2013). Loney will probably struggle to hit more than 10-12 home runs and steal more than five bags, but his career 1.43 BB/K makes him very attractive in this format. I'd take him over Adam LaRoche, Nick Swisher and Michael Morse moving forward.

David Murphy, Indians (19.8% ESPN, 11% Yahoo)

Murphy struggled in his final season in Arlington, setting career lows in batting average (.220) and on-base percentage (.282). It was quite the contrast from his career marks of .275 and .337, respectively, including a .304 BA and .380 OBP the previous year (2012). The Indians signed the versatile outfielder to a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason hoping to improve their offensive production against right-handed pitching, which Murphy has owned in his career to a tune of .280/.347/.470. He's off to a very nice start in 2014, hitting .314 against right-handers (.217 BA against left-handers), and he's receiving everyday playing time in the outfield alongside Michael Brantley, who is the only Cleveland outfielder with more games played (26 to 24). He appears well on his way to reestablishing himself as a more than useful option in points' leagues, as he's currently ranked inside the top-40 at the position. Given his track record and consistent playing time, Murphy could finish the season as a top-50 option, making him a great No. 4 outfield option.

Fallers

Starling Marte (99.9% ESPN, 96% Yahoo)

Before the season started, I caught some heat for ranking Marte as my 52nd outfielder in points' leagues. It's sometimes hard to wrap your head around the differences between roto and points, so the heat was at best understandable. After all, Marte entered the season with star status. But with two days left in April, the Pirates outfielder is ranked 88th at the position with a .229 BA and .308 OBP. The main culprit is a 37:9 K:BB ratio in 26 games. Last year, it was just as bad (138 strikeouts, 25 walks), as he owned the worst walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.24) among qualified hitters. I do think Marte will turn it around (he's too talented not to), but I don't see him matching last year's marks of 12 home runs, 83 runs and 41 steals. It's crazy, but Marte is on pace for 231 strikeouts for the season, which would surpass the all-time single season leader, Mark Reynolds, who struck out 223 times in 2009. Dropping him could be an option in a shallow format, but for now he deserves to sit on your bench.

Shelby Miller (100% ESPN, 94% Yahoo)

While Marte will be hard to deal, the same cannot be said of Miller, who registered 15 wins and 169 strikeouts in 173 1/3 innings of work in 2013. Pitchers are so fickle year to year in a points' format that it might be worth exploring should he rediscover some of his rookie magic. The sophomore pitcher is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA, but he's been very lucky thus far (5.63 FIP, 4.57 xFIP). The problem: 18 walks in 28-plus innings. He hasn't issued fewer than three walks in any one of his five starts, including nine walks in his last two games spanning 11 innings. The high walk total has led to shorter outings for Miller, who hasn't made it past six frames in any start. We see regression from sophomore pitchers all the time, although we've been fortunate to witness hot starts from Jose Fernandez, Michael Wacha and Sonny Gray. Miller's command has me very concerned, and I'd look to deal the Cardinals starter at the first sign of turning it around. Pitchers are more easily replaceable in a points' game, and -- as of today -- it might be possible to sell his sub-3.00 ERA.

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