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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/11/21

Terry McBride



MLB DFS Lineup Picks Today DraftKings FanDuel Home Runs Tournament Strategy

It may be difficult to tell with all the pigskin flying around this week, but there are still several weeks left in the MLB season. The Saturday MLB DFS slate brings some lower prize pools, with all sites squarely focused on Sunday action in a different sport this weekend. There are still worthwhile pots and plenty of excellent options for lineup construction on the slate. However, there is always an advantage to be gained in continuing a normal process when others begin to slip. Saturday’s slate includes several strong pitching options and a wealth of quality hitting at affordable prices for stacks. With a Yankees – Mets spectacle honoring the hallowed anniversary that also takes place this weekend, the White Sox and Red Sox squaring off, and the Dodgers continuing a big series against the Padres, there is a ton of excellent baseball on tap for Saturday evening.

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: Ketel Marte — 4.49

Atlanta Braves: Joc Pederson — 12.78

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 11.10

Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 10.28

Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas — 14.06

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 8.52

Kansas City Royals: Adalberto Mondesi — 5.29

Los Angeles Angels: Jared Walsh — 9.37

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager — 10.66

Miami Marlins: Lewin Diaz — 5.86

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 7.48

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 5.78

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 10.97

San Diego Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. — 12.18

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 6.51

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 5.98

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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 Saturday pitching slate has numerous quality options available, though some of the best name recognition candidates are not necessarily at the peak of the Top Pitchers Tool. The overall top spot is more matchups based, with Charlie Morton facing a lousy Marlins offense that keeps delivering quality opportunities for pitchers at extreme ownership. Walker Buehler will look to continue his excellent season against an overrated Padres offense, Dylan Cease has a difficult matchup against the Red Sox, and Luis Garcia will lead the Astros in a home start against the Angels. Luis Castillo has had a strong turnaround, pitching much more like himself through most of the season’s second half, and he faces a Cardinals team that is average at best. The deep slate continues to offer options from lower price tiers, including Corey KluberElieser HernandezChris Paddack, and Taijuwan Walker, any of whom could post a strong start for their relative salary and ownership points.

Morton is projected for nearly 70% ownership in DraftKings lineups for his $8,000 salary. On FanDuel, the $1,000 price bump has him in roughly 40% of all lineups, as a singular pitcher, no less. The Braves righty has an excellent matchup. He will be facing a Marlins team carrying a .126 ISO in the split that is the worst, by far, of any team against either hand. The Marlins have a 2.58% home run rate and create runs 20% worse than average in the split while striking out at a 25.3% rate that is the fourth-worst in baseball against righties. Morton is a quality strikeout option in most matchups. He comes into today with a 28.6% rate in 158 innings over 28 starts this season. The right-handed veteran has a 3.25 xFIP and a 1.06 WHIP, though he walks 7.9% of hitters. Morton is very good at getting out of trouble by throwing strikes. He induces a 12.3% swinging-strike rate and has a 31.1% CSW% on the season, limiting quality contact to just a 5.1% barrel rate and a 32.3% hard-hit percentage. Morton is easily the most likely starter to put up a slate-leading score, but there are many other options available that do not have more than two-thirds of the field along for the ride. Undercutting Morton and simply spreading shares to the highly-ranked options with positive leverage is a sharp approach to tournament slates.

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Buehler has been featured in this space for the vast majority of his 28 starts this season. The Dodgers righty leads baseball with 24 quality starts, and he stands fourth in innings pitched. He provides reliable depth, and a shot at the win and a quality start every time he takes the mound. Buehler and the Dodgers have a 14-game advantage in the National League Wild Card race, but they are still chasing the Giants for the division, so there is no reason to expect them to take their foot off of the gas in this one. Buehler should see a full start. This season, the righty has a 26.3% strikeout rate over 179 innings, and he has walked 6.4%. Buehler allows just a 6.9% barrel rate with a 35.6% hard-hit percentage, and he induces an 11.6% swinging-strike rate. He has a sparkling 2.31 ERA and a 3.59 xFIP for the year. The Padres are better against right-handed pitching. Their clear best skill is limiting strikeouts, coming in with just a 20.9% rate in the split. Beyond that, the team is largely average. They have a .164 collective ISO and a 3.51% home run rate against right-handed pitching, and they create runs a mere two percent ahead of the league average by collective WRC+. This is a sneaky spot for Buehler to post another deep high-end start with a handful of strikeouts. He is under-owned at a single-digit projection on the blue site. On DraftKings, his $9,400 price tag renders him somewhat popular, but he can be deployed at or around the field’s mark easily.

Castillo has had a strong turnaround and now has a 3.70 xFIP with a 4.20 ERA for the season while striking out 23.7% of hitters. The overall strikeout rate is down due largely to the starter’s struggles from March through May. During that stretch, he had a rate below 20%. Since then, he has been reliably over the 25% mark each month. The righty has allowed a 4.8% barrel rate and a 37.1% hard-hit rate on the season but still carries an ugly 9.4% walk percentage overall. That mark has been up and down over the course of the season. Castillo is a pitcher who will put men on base but typically can get himself out of jams via the strikeout. He will be facing a Cardinals team that struggled against righties this year. St. Louis has just a .150 collective ISO and a 3.29% home run rate in the split, and they have created runs 10% behind the curve by WRC+. They are another team that is good at limiting strikeouts, coming in at a 22.2% rate that sits sixth-best in the league, but with a few heavy strikeout options in the actually projected lineup, there could be upside on the board for Castillo. The righty will be under-owned on FanDuel and draws similar popularity to Buehler on the DraftKings slate. He is a better play for the positive leverage on the blue site.

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In a matchup vacuum, Cease’s 31.1% strikeout rate would be immensely appealing on this slate. The righty has thrown 148.2 innings over 28 starts in a strong breakout season. He has an inflated 9.3% walk rate and a 3.83 xFIP with a 1.22 WHIP, betraying some lingering underlying issues, but the anticipated strikeout stuff has arrived in a big way. The righty induces a 14.6% swinging-strike rate and has a 30.2% CSW% for the season. He allows a few too many barreled balls, coming in with a 9.8% rate, but it has not crushed his hard-hit rate, which stands at just 36.1%. Cease is priced at just $9,200 on FanDuel and $9,600 on DraftKings and is projected for single-digit ownership on both sites. Now for the bad news, the righty is going up against one of baseball’s best lineups against right-handed pitching. Cease will face a Red Sox team with an active roster with a massive .208 collective ISO and a 4.63% home run rate against righties. They create runs 11% better than average, and they don’t strike out much, landing at a collective 22.3%. Cease has the talent to carve up even a lineup as good as this one, but with all the power upside and quality contact specialists in the Boston lineup, it is difficult to see him getting through entirely unscathed as well. For the ownership and upside advantage, however, the pitcher is well worth embracing the risk. Cease is easily the most positively leveraged pitching play from among the top options on both sites.

Miami Marlins

It is tough to recommend the Marlins low-end lineup with any true confidence. The team’s miserable stat line against right-handed pitching shows little room for upside. They are a lame offense that lacks power, noteworthy hit tools, and run creators. The average on-base percentage for the projected lineup is a pathetic .294; when you can’t get to first base, you don’t score many runs. Regardless, Miami faces a pitcher who will be owned in a disproportionately large number of public lineups. Even with a lousy team, attacking two-thirds of the field has value when it connects, though this team is unlikely to post four or five batter scores that run off and hide from the field. Overall, this is an improbable play. It is not worth a significant number of lineup shares, but it does not require that degree of dedication either, given a one-percent ownership projection for every player on both sites. The Major League talents in the projected lineup include Miguel RojasJazz Chisholm, and most likely Jesus SanchezBryan De La Cruz has been solid over 136 plate appearances and is slashing .336/.382/.464 while creating runs 33% better than average in the small sample. Lewis Brinson was a top prospect in 2018 but has never truly put his plus power and plus speed tools together at the Major League level. This season, Brinson is slashing just .240/.286/.420 with eight home runs and a .180 ISO. This season, Lewin Diaz has hit three home runs in his 46 plate appearances, coming in with a .205 ISO in the meaningless sample. At the Triple-A level, the 24-year-old prospect has 20 home runs in 312 plate appearances this season. Jorge Alfaro offers theoretical power from the catcher position on DraftKings. He has a 48.4% hard-hit rate for the season but strikes out 32% of the time and has hit just four home runs with a .100 ISO in 306 plate appearances. At the bottom of the lineup, Isan Diaz costs just $2,400 at second or third base on DraftKings and is a $2,200 option at second base on FanDuel. Diaz is slashing a pathetic .189/.285/.281 with a .092 ISO while creating runs 42% worse than average over 264 Major League plate appearances this season. The highly regarded infield prospect needs to deliver on the promise in his bat sooner than later. As a 23-year-old in 2019, he hit 26 home runs in 435 Triple-A plate appearances. Diaz has mid-range speed as well. He posted several upside seasons for power and stolen bases on his ascent through the minors. It just needs to come together. He will be an incredibly sneaky but wildly unreliable play at the bottom of the lineup. It bears repeating that this is an unlikely play with a bad baseball team in a bad matchup. Even if they do enough damage to limit Morton’s upside, the most likely scenario is that they are still held to only a handful of runs and do not have a full stack of players that connect for necessary upside scores.

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Houston Astros

The Astros come in with a positive leverage mark despite ranking second by their probability of success on the DraftKings slate. The team is at a similar ranking on FanDuel, but their pricing has them coming up too popular on the slate. The Astros’ active roster strikes out at a ridiculous 17.6% rate against lefties, by far the best mark against either hand in all of baseball. This is a sustained trait that the hitters in the active roster carry back through at least 2018, a significant sample size. The Astros create runs 23% better than average because of this incredible ability to put the ball in play. They have a .183 collective ISO but just an average 3.74% home run rate against southpaws for the season. They will be facing Angels lefty Jose Suarez, who has a 21.2% strikeout rate in 77 innings over 10 starts. Suarez has an 8.6% walk rate but limits quality contact with a 5.8% barrel rate and a 32.7% hard-hit percentage. With their noted ability to limit strikeouts, put the ball in play, and score runs without hitting home runs, the Astros are an ideal lineup to roster against Suarez. Go-to Houston bats include Jose AltuveAlex BregmanYordan AlvarezCarlos CorreaYuli Gurriel, and Kyle Tucker. Additional bats such as Chas McCormickJake MeyersMartin Maldonado, and others can be bolted on as needed. This is a team that plays from one through nine.

Seattle Mariners

The best matchup of the day may belong to the Mariners lineup in their game against the Diamondbacks and starter Humberto Castellanos. The righty has just a 16.3% strikeout rate over 24.2 Major League innings so far. He was at a 23.9% rate over 57.2 Triple-A innings earlier in the season. In that minor league sample, Castellanos had a 4.99 ERA and a 5.31 xFIP. This is not a major prospect or a Major League talent at the moment. The Mariners have had an uneven season but feature several solid bats. Overall, the active roster has a 25.6% strikeout rate in the split that is third-worst in baseball, though we may not have to worry about it too much against this pitcher. Seattle has a .156 collective ISO and a 3.71% home run rate around league-average in the split, but they come in creating runs nine percent behind the curve against right-handed pitchers. This is less rock meeting hard place than it is feather meeting fluffy place, but something has to give, and if we’re choosing upsides, there is a far clearer path to success for the Mariners bats against this pitcher.

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JP Crawford leads off for the Mariners and slots in as an inexpensive shortstop option across the industry. Crawford is slashing .267/.332/.368 with eight home runs and three stolen bases while creating runs one percent behind the league average by WRC+ this season. The lefty has just a 29.7% hard-hit rate and a 2.5% barrel rate, but he is good at putting the ball in play, as his 17.3% strikeout rate should indicate. Crawford is a slightly better player than his current stats may indicate, and it is noteworthy that he is three percent better than average, creating runs when leading off.

Mitch Haniger is an obvious go-to power bat in the Mariners lineup, but he is priced down to $4,600 on DraftKings and $3,400 on FanDuel. Haniger has hit 30 home runs and has a .213 ISO over 598 plate appearances this season. He has a team-leading 43.5% hard-hit rate and an 11.8% barrel rate and has created runs 14% better than average. Haniger will be the most popular Mariners bat for the discount on both sites, but he is worth including in stacks and offsetting popularity at other spots as needed.

Kyle Seager hits from the left side of the plate and stands a solid chance at hitting one out of the park in this matchup. Seager has hit 34 long balls this season. He has a .240 ISO and has created runs three percent better than average. The lefty has a 12.3% barrel rate that leads the team, and he makes steady hard contact, coming in with a 40.9% rate. Overall the veteran of the hot corner is slashing just .211/.288/.451, which is driving the low WRC+ marks, but the power is significant, and Seager is a prime play for MLB DFS purposes at a fair price and ownership.

Ty France has a quality hit tool and moderate power. He is slashing .291/.363/.446 with 16 home runs and a .156 ISO, and he creates runs 28% better than average by WRC+. France is an underappreciated option in the middle of the Mariners standard-issue lineup. He has upside at $4,500 and just 2.3% ownership on DraftKings, and he is highly valuable on FanDuel, where he adds multi-position eligibility at second base for a mere $2,900, though he will be more popular on the blue site.

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Infielder Abraham Toro has been solid since arriving from Houston at the trade deadline. Toro is slashing .271/.346/.427 across the two teams, he has hit 10 home runs and stolen five bases in just 295 plate appearances and is creating runs 18% better than average. Toro hits from both sides of the plate, he has a 34.1% hard-hit rate and an 8.1% barrel rate, but he strikes out just 13.9% of the time, an excellent mark. Among players with 300 plate appearances on the season, only 20 in the entire league have a lower strikeout rate. Toro is inexpensive at $2,900 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings and deserves more attention.

Luis Torrens slots in at catcher on both sites and will be owned at less than five percent across the industry. Torrens has hit 14 home runs in just 315 plate appearances. His .204 ISO is an under-discussed weapon when he is available on the catcher board. He costs just $2,300 on FanDuel and $4,100 on DraftKings, where his 12.3% barrel rate and 43.3% hard-hit marks play well for potentially slotting a home run into the position at positive leverage.

Jarred Kelenic has been one of the biggest disappointments in baseball, which could be attributable to lingering effects from his former affiliation with the New York Mets. Kelenic came to Seattle as a prized top prospect from that system and delivered at each run of the minor league ladder for Seattle. His failure to translate his obvious talent to the Major League level has been jarring but is not entirely uncommon. Odds are his talent will win out over time. This season, Kelenic has made 293 plate appearances and has managed to hit eight home runs and swipe four bases despite slashing .163/.242/.288 with a .125 ISO. He has created runs 49% worse than average on the season and strikes out at a 29.4% clip. This is a tough ask in Kelenic’s current form, but he is a low-owned low-cost dart throw with clear talent.

Catcher Tommy Murphy slots into the backend of the Mariners’ projected lineup. Murphy is a noted three-true-outcomes style power bat. He has hit 11 home runs in 278 plate appearances and has a 40.8% hard-hit rate with a 10.5% barrel rate while striking out at a 32.7% clip and walking 12.2% of the time. Murphy is slashing .210/.308/.382 on the season, and he will not cost much to include where needed.

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Jose Marmolejos has a similar profile to Murhpy over his 117 plate appearances this season. He has four home runs and a .158 ISO in the sample but creates runs 44% worse than average and strikes out 33.3% of the time while walking at a 12.8% rate. With first base and outfield eligibility for nearly the minimum salary on both sites, there is at least utility in rostering this hitter in limited shares, if not minor upside.

HR Call: Austin Riley — Atlanta Braves

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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