Labor Day Monday features an early afternoon slate with seven games across both sites. The action looks slanted toward bats, with several high totals on the board and most of the teams pulling in reasonably strong home run marks in the power index below. There are premium starters on the board, but two of them will be dueling one another, limiting the overall upside. Beyond the three top-end pitchers there is a one or two-man mid-range followed by a precipitous drop in quality and potential. With all the uncertainty on the mound and a number of powerful-looking spots for team stacks, this looks like a day that plays well for large-field GPPs and spreading out to a broad range of lineup combinations that cover as many outcomes as possible. Utilizing the Top Stacks Tool will be key once again for MLB DFS picks today.
Daily Fantasy 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 one of the top choices from each team. 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
Baltimore Orioles: Anthony Santander — 8.84
Boston Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec — 8.20
Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 6.50
Cincinnati Reds: Eugenio Suarez — 10.46
Detroit Tigers: Akil Baddoo — 7.26
Kansas City Royals: Carlos Santana — 10.75
Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 3.78
New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 16.64
New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 19.53
Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 5.64
Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 11.91
Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena — 12.94
Toronto Blue Jays: George Springer — 13.05
Washington Nationals: Lane Thomas — 10.23
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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 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
Easily the two best pitchers on the slate, Brandon Woodruff and Zack Wheeler will be battling one another in an interesting contest in Milwaukee. The two pitchers are drawing significant attention, as is Sonny Gray, who slots into the fourth position on the talent spectrum and projects in a similar range. Perhaps the most interesting situation on the board is Boston’s Chris Sale, who has been largely excellent since his return from injury. Sale is under-owned in a matchup against the Rays, a team that is far better against right-handed pitching than they are against southpaws. This seems like an exploitable situation for tournament play. Beyond the quartet of more obvious names, things begin to get dicey in a hurry. The slate seems to be flocking toward flawed Tarik Skubal, while Jameson Taillon and Hyun-jin Ryu are both under-owned for their quality despite the difficult matchups each faces in a heads-up game between the Yankees and Blue Jays. Trusting in the lower-end pitching is a major dice roll on this slate. Among pitchers priced below $7,000, Trevor Williams stands the tallest in the model given the quality matchup against the terrible Nationals lineup.
Wheeler’s average depth of start and relative safety every time he takes the mound have been covered at length in this space through the season. He has thrown 182.2 innings in his 27 starts, pitching to a 2.90 xFIP with a 1.02 WHIP. He has a terrific 28.6% strikeout rate and walks just 5.5% while inducing a 12.6% swinging-strike rate. Wheeler’s 5.1% barrel rate and 29.7% hard-hit rate allowed both severely cap the opposing potential for power and run creation. He will be facing a Brewers active roster that is extremely average against right-handed pitching this season. Milwaukee has a .170 team ISO with a 24.2% strikeout rate and 3.72% home run rate in the split, all of which rank at or near the middle of the league. The team creates runs 5% worse than average against righties, which should help add to the idea of safety in Wheeler. He is expensive but worthwhile at $10,100 on DraftKings and $10,200 on FanDuel. Riding along with the public is not a major issue, though carving a few shares out for other options is always a fine approach for highly owned pitchers on tournament slates.
On the other side of the game, Woodruff is one of the few pitchers in the league who has arguably outpaced Wheeler’s quality. He has thrown 157.1 innings in 26 outings, pulling in a 3.04 xFIP with a 0.94 WHIP and a 30% strikeout rate. Woodruff walks just 6.5% while inducing a 12.6% swinging-strike rate and allowing a 5.4% barrel rate with 29.8% hard-hit. His .330 expected slugging percentage allowed sits in the 82nd percentile across baseball. Woodruff has solid individual strikeout upside, and he draws a Mets team with an active roster that sits eighth from the bottom with a 24.6% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season. New York has a .156 collective ISO and a 3.59% home run rate while creating runs 6% behind the curve in the split. Woodruff and Wheeler both stand a chance to put up significant scores in what should be an excellent pitching duel. The field is backing Woodruff’s lower price at $9,600 on DraftKings, and he is projected for roughly similar ownership to his opponent for $10,500 on the blue site. Both starters come up negatively leveraged in the Top Pitchers Tool. They are playable, but tournament players would do well to consider undercutting the field and looking to under-owned options like the next featured pitcher.
Sale’s worst performance since his return came in his most recent outing against this same Rays team. In that start last week Sale struck out just three while allowing two earned runs and a home run in six innings pitched. The start was not at all problematic, but Sale did not reach his typical heights, with the limited strikeout number. That outing does little to change the projection for this evening. Sale will still be facing a Rays team that is sixth worst in baseball, with a 24.1% strikeout rate against lefties this season. The Rays have a .170 ISO and a 3.75% home run rate in the split, though they do still create runs 8% ahead of the average. However, Sale has a 27.9% strikeout rate over his 21.1 innings this season and was typically above 30% throughout his career prior to the injury. In the short-sample return, he has a 3.28 xFIP with a 5.8% walk rate and a 14.6% induced swinging-strike rate. He has compiled a sharp 31.6% CSW and allows just a 3.7% barrel rate and 33.3% hard-hit rate. Sale is an excellent option for $10,700 on FanDuel where he is drawing single-digit ownership. On the DraftKings slate he is underpriced at $9,900. He will be popular on that site but is still coming up with positive leverage indicators. This is the go-to under-owned tournament pitcher of the day.
Skubal’s popularity is concerning. He has a very solid 26.4% strikeout rate over 133 innings in 24 starts this season, but he is less than reliable for MLB DFS purposes and is extremely popular with a discounted salary on this slate. Skubal has a 7.9% walk rate on the season and is pitching to a 4.11 xFIP with a 1.29 WHIP. He induces an 11.6% swinging-strike rate but has a limited 27.5% CSW. The major concern lies in the contact profile; Skubal has yielded a massive 13.6% barrel rate with a 45% hard-hit rate this season. That comes with a 90.8 mph average exit velocity and a 15.5-degree average launch angle that plays extremely well for home run upside. He gets a bump in projections and potential for upside by facing the lowly Pirates lineup. Pittsburgh’s active roster has just a 22.7% strikeout rate, good for 13th in the league, but they are well below average at everything else. The Pirates have just a 2.54% home run rate and a collective .140 ISO against lefties this season, and they create runs 22% worse than average in the split. With the ownership weight on Skubal, the Pirates will not have to do much to ruin everyone’s day. He allows enough premium contact that a few of the quality bats in this lineup are enough to do damage. If no one was going to Skubal, he would make a quality play at this price in this matchup. With his popularity nearly doubling his probability of being a top-two option on DraftKings and doing the same against his chances of being the best pitcher on FanDuel, Skubal seems an easy stay-away on this slate. This is not a recommendation to stack the opposing Pirates, however. Skubal has enough strikeout acumen to keep them from doing significant damage, and the Pirates are already over-owned in the Top Stacks Tool despite ranking near the bottom of the board.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are playing at the hitter-friendly ballpark in Camden Yards and taking on Orioles’ lefty Zac Lowther. Lowther has a 25% strikeout rate but a 9.1% walk rate in an 8.1-inning sample and has yielded a 14.8% barrel rate, 63% hard-hit rate and 95.4 mph average exit velocity. Those would be the worst contact marks in baseball by a wide margin, so some regression to the norm is expected here, but Lowther looks like a targetable pitcher. The Royals are a flawed lineup overall, but there is MLB DFS quality in their ability to steal bases and generate runs, with some moderate power upside around a few key players. Kansas City tops the board on both sites for probability of being the best stack. They are pulling slightly negative leverage marks, though most of the ownership is concentrated around Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez and Edward Olivares. The rest of the team can be rostered and utilized to offset the popularity. Nicky Lopez adds a solid on-base (.361) skill with reasonable speed (18 steals) to any stack from the No. 2 spot. Carlos Santana has a 41.6% hard-hit rate and 18 home runs this season. Andrew Benintendi adds some mid-range power and stolen base upside. Throwing in shares of Michael A. Taylor, Hanser Alberto and Hunter Dozier is a playable approach as well, though this team is a better option when the lineup includes Adalberto Mondesi.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are coming up somewhat under-owned in a difficult spot against Sale. Tampa does not see the same quality against lefties over the course of this season. Their power and home run hitting are down in the split, and they strike out more than they do against righties. The Rays active roster still creates runs eight percent better than average in the split, however, a statistic that should not be ignored. On the FanDuel slate, where run creation plays nearly equally to home runs (depending on how the runs are created), this is a potentially sneaky spot if the team can ding Sale early then get into the bullpen. The Rays loaded lineup is projected for single-digit ownership. Key hitters include Randy Arozarena, Wander Franco and Nelson Cruz, while quality can be found in Yandy Diaz, Jordan Luplow and Manuel Margot. Austin Meadows is in the confirmed lineup in a lefty-lefty matchup that typically gives him fits.
New York Yankees
The Yankees were the featured stack for this afternoon. The team looks to be in an excellent situation, and they are under-owned. For the full breakdown tune, in to the Strategy Show.
HR Call: Giancarlo Stanton — New York Yankees
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