Head-to-Head Risers and Fallers: Alcides Escobar, Brandon Phillips and More

Tom Szczerbowski

Identifying risers and fallers in head-to-head points' leagues for Week 7, including Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar and Athletics catcher Derek Norris.

Risers

Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals

Escobar hit .234/.259/.300 a year ago, and many owners stayed far away on draft day. The Royals shortstop was selected 20th at his position, according to NFBC, with Everth Cabrera, for example, going 180 picks before Escobar. Entering Monday, Escobar has more home runs (2) than teammates Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, who are all stuck on one, but that's not why his stock is up. Escobar has demonstrated more patience with the bat, walking 7.1 percent of the time and seeing 3.65 pitches per plate appearance (up from 3.50). He looks more like his 2013 version -- when he slashed .276/.331/.390 with five home runs, 68 runs, 52 RBIs and 35 steals -- than last year's disappointment. Escobar is on pace to set career highs in runs, RBIs and steals, but I think a realistic outcome for the 27-year-old is 70 runs, 50 RBIs and 30 steals. He's never been a big strikeout player (career 13.5 percent strikeout rate), and he should sneak inside the top-10 shortstops in points leagues if he continues to show better command of the strike zone. Escobar is equally -- if not more -- valuable in rotisserie leagues, where he's currently the No. 4 shortstop in 5X5.

Derek Norris, C, Athletics

Norris is the No. 5 catcher in points leagues on the heels of a two-home run day Sunday, in which the backstop knocked in six runs over the first two innings. He's getting regular playing time in Oakland with John Jaso struggling, hitting .385/.467/.603 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. Yes, Norris is on a hot streak and he's currently enjoying a .406 BABIP, but he still has a knack for getting on base. According to Baseball Reference, Norris' on-base percentage across seven seasons in the minor leagues was .394, including .367 in Double-A and .335 in Triple-A (two seasons). Norris is a must own in two-catcher formats, and you might even think about adding the bearded one in deeper one-catcher formats. He's walked more than he's struck out, and he's spending the majority of his time batting fifth in the league's fourth highest scoring offense. Norris is still out there in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues and 95 percent of ESPN leagues. We should see Norris set career highs across the board, with 15 home runs and 60 RBI a nice goal.

Fallers

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds

Phillips has regressed three straight seasons despite being a consistent 80-run, 18-home run bat from second base. His on-base percentage is down for the fourth consecutive year, and under .300 for the first time since his rookie year (2003). Cincinnati's offense has struggled to score runs, which is something we're not used to seeing. The Reds have scored fewer runs than 25 teams, with only Atlanta, San Diego, Houston and Chicago (NL) trailing behind. Along with a slow start from Joey Votto and with the absence of Jay Bruce, Phillips has been a big reason why the team has struggled to put runs on the board. After knocking in 103 in 2013, Phillips had six RBIs in April despite everyday playing time. His strikeout rate is a career-worst 20.7 percent, and Cincinnati has scored four runs or less in eight of its last 10 games.

Jason Castro, C, Astros

Castro's 2013 breakout saw the Houston backstop launch 18 home runs in 120 games and bat .276/.350/.485 despite a 26.5 percent strikeout rate. He's been a fine run producer thus far with five home runs and 17 RBIs, but his strikeout rate is all the way up to 32.1 percent and his walk rate is down to 7.5 percent (10.2 percent in 2013). I think his walk rate will come up eventually, but I'm worried that his strikeout numbers will be too much to overcome. He currently has 43 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 games, and only nine players have punched out more. That's normally a red flag in points leagues, and the strikeout and walk difference has him outside the top-25 catchers. While the five home runs are nice, he's only contributed three doubles after smacking 35 in 435 at-bats in 2013. It's time to start looking elsewhere if you haven't already.

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