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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/29/21

Terry McBride



Wednesday brings the second straight 13-game slate and plenty of interesting options. The pitching selection has several premium aces available as well as a viable range of talented starters at various points along the pricing spectrum. The Coors Field game is off of the main slate on both DraftKings and FanDuel, which will have a somewhat normalizing effect on ownership around the league. Several top options for stacking are drawing significant ownership, but the Top Stacks Tool is the guide through the various MLB DFS picks available. Be sure to check the Awesemo MLB DFS projections all the way up to lock, as news will be breaking and projections will be changing, which will greatly impact your lineups.

MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Top HR Options

Home runs are the holy grail when making MLB DFS picks. Finding the right combination of sluggers who will knock one, or better two, out of the park to drive in the teammates you stack with them is critical to winning GPPs. Identifying the likely home run hitters is trickier than just looking at the big names. Using a model of my design, based on a blend of several predictive statistics for the batter-pitcher matchup, I will give each team one of the top choices. However, it will not always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star in that spot every day.

Home Run Ratings

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Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ketel Marte — 5.82

Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall — 10.33

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 5.77

Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts — 11.05

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 7.28

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto — 6.87

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 7.43

Detroit Tigers: Eric Haase — 6.70

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 9.70

Kansas City Royals: Adalberto Mondesi — 7.54

Los Angeles Angels: Max Stassi — 7.52

Los Angeles Dodgers: Justin Turner — 8.93

Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm — 6.78

Milwaukee Brewers: Dan Vogelbach — 10.38

Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton — 13.12

New York Mets: Javier Baez — 13.95

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 10.36

Oakland Athletics: Seth Brown — 5.89

Philadelphia Phillies: Andrew McCutchen — 4.96

San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer — 7.49

San Francisco Giants: Kris Bryant — 6.12

Seattle Mariners: Abraham Toro — 6.85

St. Louis Cardinals: Paul DeJong — 5.83

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows — 7.51

Texas Rangers: Willie Calhoun — 9.51

Toronto Blue Jays: George Springer — 12.58

Power Index

This is intended to capture the full range of home run upside for each team. It is not meant as a stack ranking and does not account for pricing or popularity — only home run potential. The first column is the average rating for the full projected lineup (pitcher bats not included in non-DH games), and the second is for the top six hitters in the projected lineup.

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MLB DFS Picks: Pitchers, Optimal Stacks & Leverage Plays

This section will feature a few standout MLB DFS spots and teams to look at for potential plays on DraftKings and FanDuel. Ensure to check out the Awesemo Ownership Projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

On the Hill

The Wednesday pitching slate has plenty to love at the top and a broad midrange through which MLB DFS gamers can stretch out shares to quality options at a variety of prices, rather than going into a full dumpster-dive. The Yankees will have Gerrit Cole on the mound, Max Scherzer will be making his last regular-season start, and Carlos Rodon is slated to take the mound against the Reds. The list of quality options continues with Frankie Montas, Jose Berrios and Nathan Eovaldi. Add in reasonable expectations for Alex Wood, Elieser Hernandez and Luis Garcia, and the pitching slate is interesting. The oddball at the top of the board is Taijuan Walker, who brings his roller coaster of a season to a close with a home start against a lame Marlins lineup that offers both safety and strikeout upside to a starter who typically brings neither.

Taking on Cole, the Blue Jays has a 4.66% home run rate and a .198 ISO against right-handed pitching this season. They have created runs 13% better than average and have a league-leading 19.9% strikeout rate in the split. However, Cole is simply among the best of the best. He has made 29 starts this season, pitching to a 2.88 xFIP and racking up a 33.9% strikeout rate over 175.1 innings. Cole yields a 9.3% barrel rate and a 38.2% hard-hit percentage in the rare instance that batters are able to make contact, but he has a terrific 5.9% walk rate with a 14.7% induced swinging-strike rate and a 32.3% CSW. He may get tagged for a long ball, but the odds are strongly in favor of it coming with no runners on base, and with several strikeouts already in the books. Cole is owned in the low single-digits on the blue site, where he is priced at $11,000. For $900 less across town, he is drawing between 10 and 15% popularity. Cole is a positively leveraged play who should be owned beyond the field’s current rate on both sites despite the tough opponent.

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Scherzer has a 34.8% strikeout rate and a 3.18 xFIP over 174 innings in his 29 starts this season. He has a 0.83 WHIP, walks a mere 5.4% of opposing hitters and induces a massive 16.1% swinging-strike rate with a 31.6% CSW. Scherzer allows an 8.2% barrel rate but limits the opposing hard-hit percentage to just 32.7%. His .338 xSLG is a 72nd-percentile mark, but his .256 xwOBA sits in the 92nd percentile in baseball. Scherzer is not a starter who needs a sales pitch, but he does come at exorbitant prices on both sites today. He will be popular at a $10,400 price on DraftKings and similarly so at $11,500 on FanDuel. The matchup against the Padres is a good one, though the active roster is above average at limiting strikeouts against righties, coming in at a 20.8% rate. San Diego has a .163 ISO and a 3.45% home run rate in the split, and they create runs a mere 1% ahead of the average. Scherzer has a strong chance at landing one of the night’s top pitching scores, but he is projected for more popularity than his probability of success across the industry.

Rodon has not pitched in the sixth inning of a baseball game since July 18th, a start in which he worked seven innings of 10-strikeout one-hit ball against the Astros. Following that outing, Rodon made two starts of four innings each, followed by a five-inning outing and was then shut down for two weeks on Aug. 7. Since his return on Aug. 26, Rodon threw exactly five innings in three starts, then he worked just three in his most recent outing against the lowly Tigers, after taking another 10 days off. This is all to say that it is likely that Rodon will be limited once again tonight. He has the upside to provide more than a handful of strikeouts even in four or five innings, but the outlook is unreliable at best, and he is not discounted for the potential limitation. Rodon has a 35.1% strikeout rate but has only managed 127.2 innings over 23 starts. He induces a 15.1% swinging-strike rate and has a 30.2% CSW and limits contact well for the season. The Reds active roster has a 3.33% home run rate and a .154 ISO against left-handed pitching this season, and the team creates runs 15% behind the league average. They limit strikeouts to a 22.8% rate that is around the middle of the league. Rodon is pulling in popularity at his high price and despite the concerns about any limitations, this is a spot from which it makes sense to pivot in MLB DFS tournaments on both sites.

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The Marlins are a bad baseball team. The active roster has a .134 ISO and a 2.81% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season. They create runs 20% worse than average and strike out at an aggressive 25.5% rate in the split. The question for Walker is whether he can capitalize. He has a 22.4% strikeout rate and a 4.47 xFIP over 151.2 innings in 28 starts. Walker has walked 8.3% of hitters and has a 1.21 WHIP, induces just a 9.6% swinging-strike rate and has a 28.3% CSW. He also yields a 10.2% barrel rate and a 40% hard-hit percentage with 89.4 mph average exit velocity. Walker has not been good in recent outings, regardless of the quality of the opponent. Per FanGraphs’ splits board, Walker had a 2.66 ERA and a 3.93 xFIP over the season’s first half and a 7.74 ERA with a 5.37 xFIP over the second half, 94.2 and 57-inning samples, respectively. Walker’s strikeouts dipped from 25% over the first half all the way to a mere 18.5% in the second half, while his walks increased from 7.9% to 8.8%. Even against a team as bad as the Marlins, even at just $6,600 and $7,300 across DraftKings and FanDuel respectively, Walker is difficult to trust. He is pulling in heavy ownership on both sites, his nearly 40% popularity is easier to swallow on the two-pitcher site, where his low price warrants consideration at SP2. On the blue site, Walker is slated to be in nearly a quarter of all MLB DFS lineups, which is more than triple his probability of landing as the night’s top-scoring pitcher. There is too much popularity on the shaky right arm, this is another spot from which pivots on FanDuel would be advisable. Undercutting the SP2 ownership share on DraftKings could be worthwhile as well.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox once again land near the top of the board, under piles of public popularity. The team is one of the leading options in the home run model, and they project for significant MLB DFS scoring potential this evening in another Camden Yards game against Zac Lowther. He has a 22.2% strikeout rate with an 11.1% walk rate and a 5.12 xFIP. Lowther has yielded a 12.2% barrel rate and a monstrous 51.4% hard-hit percentage this season, with 92.2 mph average exit velocity. He is in a lot of trouble against a Red Sox lineup featuring fantastic power bats like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez and Bobby Dalbec. The balance of the Boston batting order provides options that offset price to a degree but do less to help with popularity. Even hitters like Christian Arroyo are pulling in ownership, let alone quality bats like Enrique Hernandez in the leadoff spot or Alex Verdugo toward the back end of the lineup. The only issue with the Red Sox is their absurd popularity, getting to the team in unique builds is a challenge, but with the less popular pitching and second stacking options on a slate of this size, it is certainly possible.

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Houston Astros

Even with mere days left in the regular season, this is unlikely to be the final time the Astros are featured in this space for pulling in both positive leverage and strong probability of being the top-scoring option of the night. The team has one of the best lineups in baseball, they are high-priced but far too unpopular in a matchup against the Rays and Drew Rasmussen. He has made nine starts and thrown a total of 71 innings this season. He has a 24.4% strikeout rate overall, but just an 18.8% mark as a starter. Rasmussen has a 3.75 xFIP and a 0.84 WHIP in that role. The Astros lineup includes terrific options from top to bottom, featuring Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker and Chas McCormick. Gurriel is pulling in less than 2% popularity from site to site. Martin Maldonado is slashing just .172/.274/.302 with 12 home runs in 420 plate appearances this season while creating runs 46% worse than average. Stacking Astros from top to bottom is a strong tournament play tonight.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants are under-owned across both sites this evening in a home game with the Diamondbacks in town. San Francisco will be facing Merrill Kelly, who is a league-average talent at this point in his career. Kelly has a 19.6% strikeout rate and a 4.21 xFIP over 153 innings in 26 starts this season. He has a 1.29 WHIP, induces just a 9% swinging-strike rate and has compiled a sub-par 26.3% CSW. Kelly has allowed a 6.5% barrel rate and a 39.1% hard-hit percentage this year. San Francisco’s active roster has a 4.55% home run rate and a .204 ISO against righties this season. They strike out at a 24.1% clip but create runs 13% ahead of the league average. There is significant opportunity in unpopular San Francisco bats tonight.

Tommy La Stella is a cheap multi-position option between second and third base on the blue site; he is a $3,900 second baseman on DraftKings. La Stella is slashing just .250/.311/.413 with a .163 ISO and seven home runs over 230 plate appearances. He has a fantastic 11.3% strikeout rate, though he walks just 7.8% of the time so far this year and does not make much hard contact. This is a correlation play who can be rostered in stacks, but he does not stand out for individual production.

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LaMonte Wade Jr. has a strong 10.8% barrel rate and a 41.9% hard-hit percentage this season. He has hit 18 home runs in 364 plate appearances and adds six stolen bases to the MLB DFS scoring tally. Wade has an excellent .238 ISO to go with his .257/.332/.495 triple-slash and he has created runs 23% better than average for the season. Wade is underpriced on both sites this evening, but he is not drawing significant public attention for the opportunity.

Buster Posey has 436 plate appearances and 18 home runs while slashing .302/.388/.501 this season. He has created runs 40% better than average while maintaining a 39.5% hard-hit percentage, striking out just 19.7% of the time and posting a .199 ISO, and he is at less than 10% ownership. FanDuel gamers are simply skipping him almost entirely.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford is slashing .302/.378/.526 with 23 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Crawford is creating runs 42% better than average, a team-leading mark on one of the best offenses in the game this year. He has a 43.1% hard-hit percentage and an 11.4% barrel rate this season. H strikes out at just a 19.3% clip and walks in 10.6% of his opportunities.

With eligibility at third base and in the outfield on both sites, Kris Bryant provides clear value and is underpriced for $3,900 on FanDuel and $4,900 on DraftKings. He has 25 home runs between the Cubs and Giants this season, is slashing .267/.354/.488 with a .221 ISO and has created runs 25% better than average for the season. Bryant should be included in the vast majority of stacks with this team, which is difficult in a lineup that plays from one through eight.

Mike Yastrzemski slots in at a $4,200 price on DraftKings and $3,300 on FanDuel. He has 25 home runs this season but is seeing less than 3% popularity from site to site. He has an aggressive 24.4% strikeout rate but a 10.2% barrel rate for the season. He is slashing .224/.309/.462 and could clearly stand to get on base more often, but his .237 ISO is an excellent power mark, and he creates runs 6% ahead of league average. Yastrzemski is a terrific option who is not popular enough for his talents on this slate.

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Evan Longoria has 13 home runs in just 274 plate appearances and is slashing .278/.369/.515 with a .236 ISO as part of the Giants’ reliable group of veterans. He has a team-leading 54.8% hard-hit percentage and a 13.6% barrel rate this year.

Steven Duggar has eight home runs and six stolen bases this season, though there are other options available on the roster. If it is Duggar, he is fine as a low-cost pivot from another spot but is among the least likely options of those presented here to provide MLB DFS scoring value. Duggar has a 32.8% hard-hit percentage and a 7.9% barrel rate while creating runs 11% above average over 292 plate appearances this season.

HR Call: Pete Alonso — New York Mets

To get even more action down on tonight’s MLB slate, check out the betting markets and Awesemo’s expert MLB betting picks for today.

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Terry used to do other things, now he writes words on the internet. He hopes his more than 20 years’ experience in season-long and daily fantasy sports and his custom models for MLB, NBA, and NFL don't steer you too wrong when he writes columns and makes picks on A lifetime of experience keeping odd hours make Terry ideal to cover KBO baseball overnight until the world returns to normal. Most of those late night hours have been spent on the couch watching sports, T.V., and movies; just try to shut him up about any of the above. You can find his pop-culture ramblings and more on Sideaction.

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