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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/17/21

Terry McBride

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MLB DFS Lineup picks today DraftKings FanDuel fantasy baseball free expert projections ownership rankings tournament strategy advice tips best home run predictions Astros Yankees Padres Red Sox White Sox

Full-slate Friday brings a loaded board on both sides of the game, with several standout pitching options and some excellent stacks. The pitching slate has a wide middle with a number of good second starters in plus situations. Several of the biggest name recognition candidates are in more difficult matchups, which makes the pricing and popularity situation up and down the list a major factor in building lineups for tonight’s contests. Utilizing the Top Pitchers Tool and our Ownership Projections are the best way to parse the data to find the best overall MLB DFS picks today.

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 own 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: Daulton Varsho — 8.09

Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall — 5.74

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 12.87

Boston Red Sox: Kyle Schwarber — 11.72

Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 7.29

Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 10.06

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos — 7.93

Cleveland Indians: Bobby Bradley — 7.33

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 26.13

Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candelario — 6.51

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 12.26

Kansas City Royals: Andrew Benintendi — 3.95

Los Angeles Angels: Jared Walsh — 6.34

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager — 5.66

Miami Marlins: Jesus Sanchez — 11.00

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 6.61

Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 13.87

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 3.75

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 15.40

Oakland Athletics: Starling Marte — 8.47

Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 7.16

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 11.16

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 14.52

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt — 4.13

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 6.46

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 11.55

Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena — 9.99

Texas Rangers: D.J. Peters — 7.19

Toronto Blue Jays: Bo Bichette — 6.54

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 6.39

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.

MLB DFS Lineup picks today DraftKings FanDuel fantasy baseball free expert projections ownership rankings tournament strategy advice tips best home run predictions Astros Yankees Padres Red Sox White Sox

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

Friday’s pitching slate is far stronger than yesterday’s. The board features a pair of top-tier starters who are in interesting situations for their prices. Zack Wheeler will be facing the underperforming Mets, Walker Buehler draws the Reds, both are expensive and easily talented enough to post big scores against those teams, but there are quality bats up and down both lineups. The board opens up significantly at the next tier, with German Marquez facing the Nationals, Dylan Cease taking on the Rangers, and Elieser Hernandez facing the Pirates. Luis Patino is inexpensive and projects well against the Tigers from a bit lower down the list, while Adrian Houser could be serviceable against the Cubs. Luis Castillo is in a tough spot on the other side of the Dodgers vs Reds game, and excellent Logan Webb will be challenged by the Braves.

Wheeler leads the league in innings this season with 195.1 in his 29 starts, Buehler sits fourth with 186 in the same number of opportunities. He leads all of baseball with 25 quality starts in those 29 outings, Wheeler is in a seventh-place tie with 18. He has a 2.88 xFIP and a 28.9% strikeout rate on the season, while Buehler has a 3.63 xFIP and a 26% strikeout rate while allowing a 7% barrel rate and a 36.3% hard-hit percentage. Wheeler has been better with contact, yielding just a 5% barrel rate and a fantastic 28.9% hard-hit percentage. Both pitchers stand excellent chances of pitching deep into their respective contests with obvious upside toward a win and quality start bonus where applicable. The edge in the head-to-head matchup has to be given to Wheeler based on the quality of his opponent. While the Mets have good major league bats up and down the lineup, things just have not come together in Queens this season. The team has a 24.5% strikeout rate with a .156 ISO and a 3.61% home run rate against right-handed pitching this year and they create runs 6% worse than average in the split. Meanwhile, Buehler will be facing a Reds team that has a solid .190 ISO and 4.24% home run rate while striking out just 23.1% of the time and creating runs 7% better than average against righties. However, Wheeler will be at negative leverage despite coming in at a much higher price on both sites. Buehler stands at low ownership for a bit of a discount in the difficult matchup.

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Marquez is a good right-handed pitcher who would be held in higher regard if he pitched for any other organization in baseball. Despite making half his starts at Coors Field, Marquez still has strong numbers across the board. He has a 24.2% strikeout rate, and he induces a 12.5% swinging-strike rate. He is very good at limiting quality contact, coming in at a 4.8% barreled ball rate and a 36.7% hard-hit percentage. Marquez has an 8.1% walk rate and a 1.20 WHIP, but he is talented enough to get out of most jams. Against this Nationals club, Marquez has an excellent shot at a strong start. The active roster for Washington has a .143 ISO and a 3.08% home run rate while striking out 23% of the time. The team creates runs 12% worse than average as well, removing any real threat of Marquez getting blown up in this spot. He is affordable in the mid-range and will not be overly popular on either site, despite the strong matchup.

Cease has been excellent this season. He has a 31.1% strikeout rate and has pitched to a 3.90 xFIP with a 1.26 WHIP. He has an inflated 9.8% walk rate and can struggle with his command from time to time, but by and large he has been sharp, reliable and able to pitch his way out of trouble, as necessary. Cease has allowed a 9.9% barrel rate but just a 36.5% hard-hit percentage and he is in a very strong matchup. He will be facing a weak Rangers lineup that has a .144 ISO and a 3.06% home run rate against righties this season. The active roster strikes out at a respectable 23.1% clip, but they create runs 17% worse than average. There is upside for Cease to get through a deep start and rack up his usual number of strikeouts while chasing a win and quality start. He will be extremely popular on both sites, though.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are one of the highest-ranked teams on the Top Stacks Tool once again today. They are pulling slightly negative leverage on the DraftKings slate and are keeping their heads just above the water on the blue site. The team is facing Michael Pineda who has just a 20.4% strikeout rate over 93 innings this season. He has pitched to a 4.21 xFIP and a 1.22 WHIP, the latter in spite of a sharp 4.7% walk rate. Pineda has given up a 9% barrel rate and a 44.6% hard-hit percentage on the season and will be facing a lineup that makes steady strong contact from top to bottom. Despite the close to even ownership marks by comparison to their probability of being the top option, the individual Blue Jays hitters are mostly owned in the high single-digits. The noteworthy exceptions are George Springer and Vladimir Guerrero Jr, both of whom will be popular. Getting to Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez around those two is the obvious and highest-upside approach, but there are quality bats later in the lineup as well. Corey Dickerson and Lourdes Gurriel are affordable quality outfielders, while Danny Jansen wields a powerful bat at the catcher position and Breyvic Valera can help offset any salary concerns.

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Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are infrequent visitors to this space, but the team has a handful of high-quality bats, and they are in a good situation today. Seattle will be facing Brady Singer in Kansas City. He has thrown 120.2 innings this season and has just a 22.4% strikeout rate with an ugly 9.2% walk rate and a 4.21 xFIP. Singer’s 1.56 WHIP is far too high, but he has reasonable underlying qualities including a 10.3% swinging-strike rate, a 30.4% CSW, a 6% barrel rate, and a 37.8% hard-hit percentage. The prime Mariners bats are J.P. Crawford, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Ty France, and Abraham Toro. Outfielders Jake Fraley and Jarred Kelenic can provide under-owned and inexpensive upside, though neither has been overly reliable this year. The back end of the heavily left-handed projected lineup includes Jake Bauers and Cal Raleigh who are both playable in the right constructions.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox lead their division by 11 games, but their 83 wins are the second-lowest total for a division leader across the league. The team has been very good though the season and overcame several significant injuries to star players. Now mostly healthy, the White Sox seem poised for a deep playoff run. They will be warming up for the tournament in an easy matchup against lefty Taylor Hearn this evening. He has a 22% strikeout rate over 90.1 innings and has pitched to a 4.61 xFIP and a 9% walk rate. Hearn allows an 8.2% barrel rate and a 37.7% hard-hit percentage that are not terrible but do not play well with the low strikeout and high walk numbers.

The White Sox are managing Tim Anderson’s leg injuries to a degree, so there is a chance he will not play once again. Anderson is slashing .300/.328/.452 with a .152 ISO and 14 home runs this season. He has 17 stolen bases in the 494-plate-appearance sample. Anderson creates runs 13% better than average and is projected for single-digit ownership.

Luis Robert costs just $4,700 on DraftKings but $4,000 on FanDuel. Robert has a 42.4% hard-hit rate and strikes out at just a 20.1% clip, but he needs to walk more. Over his 239 plate appearances, he is slashing .348/.385/.549 with a .201 ISO and eight home runs. He has five stolen bases and has created runs 55% ahead of average by WRC+. For the discounted price on DraftKings, Robert is a terrific option who will be owned at just 11.3%.

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Jose Abreu has 29 home runs and a .228 ISO while creating runs 27% better than average on the season. Abreu has an excellent 48.9% hard-hit rate and a 10.7% barrel rate this season. He costs just $4,500 on DraftKings, an inexplicable discount for the premium power. Abreu should be in most White Sox stacks on both sites.

Yasmani Grandal has made 311 plate appearances this season and has walked at a 22.8% clip. He has a 55.2% hard-hit percentage and a 15.2% barrel rate on the year and has mashed 20 home runs in the limited opportunities. Grandal has a team-leading .284 ISO, and he has created runs 59% better than average. His .416 on-base percentage has him involved in most White Sox rallies and run creation events. He should not be skipped for $3,600 on FanDuel.

Eloy Jimenez costs just $4,100 on DraftKings but has eight home runs in his 172 plate appearances since returning from injury. He has a 47.1% hard-hit percentage and an 11.8% barrel rate with a .201 ISO. He has created runs 9% better than average in the small sample, and there is more than that in his bat. Jimenez mashed 31 home runs with a .246 ISO and a 116 WRC+ in 504 plate appearances as a rookie in 2019, and he hit another 14 home runs and had a .263 ISO with a 140 WRC+ in just 226 plate appearances in the short season in 2020.

Yoan Moncada is slashing .269/.380/.409 this season. He has been very good at the plate despite a lack of major power, hitting just 12 home runs and posting a .140 ISO but creating runs 24% better than average. He has a 41.3% hard-hit rate and an 8.5% barrel rate but strikes out at a 25% clip. Moncada is good at drawing the free pass, however, which helps push the on-base percentage and run creation. He is underpriced and under-owned across the industry.

Leury Garcia slots into the back end of the lineup and can be rostered at both middle infield positions on FanDuel. He is a shortstop only on the DraftKings slate. Garcia has just a 31% hard-hit percentage and a 3.8% barrel rate this year. He is slashing .262/.333/.373 with a .110 ISO and has created runs 2% behind the curve. Garcia has five home runs and six stolen bases. He is capable of providing limited MLB DFS scoring for the money at the end of the batting order.

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Gavin Sheets is a first baseman on FanDuel and adds outfield eligibility on DraftKings, and he is very cheap from site to site. Sheets has nine home runs, a .274 ISO and has created runs 19% better than average so far. This is a good power hitter with a 47.9% hard-hit percentage and 10.6% barrel rate.

Cesar Hernandez has 21 home runs in 591 plate appearances this year but is slashing just .229/.305/.389 and has created runs 12% behind the average. With the limited hit and on-base tools on display, there are few reasons to consider Hernandez in all but a limited set within a large group of White Sox stacks.

HR Call: C.J. Cron — Colorado Rockies

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 Awesemo.com. 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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