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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/16/21

Terry McBride

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Thursday afternoon features the worst MLB DFS slate of the season. FanDuel is starting action early with a 5:05 p.m. ET main-slate lock, while DraftKings starts an hour later and features just three games. Adding to the already appealing slate, there are just two good pitchers to utilize on the blue site and only one across town. The slate is a mess and will require uncomfortable lineup decisions, particularly on the mound. When there are fewer teams, the probability of a full stack running off to hide with their high score becomes less and individuals can be utilized more to vary combinations and search for upside. Stacking is still a priority, but alternate constructions such as a 3-3-2 combination or even a 4-2-1-1 (FanDuel examples) become more viable. With the help of the Awesemo expert projections, let’s see pinpoint some of the best MLB DFS stacks and lineup 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

Baltimore Orioles: Cedric Mullins — 5.61

Chicago Cubs: Patrick Wisdom — 13.44

Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Schoop — 11.76

Houston Astros: Alex Bregman — 12.63

New York Yankees: Anthony Rizzo — 14.94

Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 8.64

Tampa Bay Rays: Jordan Luplow — 10.15

Texas Rangers: Nate Lowe — 4.53

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 Thursday pitching slate is a disaster. Gamers on the blue site will have to start early but get the bonus of being able to play Jordan Montgomery, a pitcher who is not typically a major MLB DFS point-scoring option but looks like easily the second-best play on the slate. With availability on both sites, Framber Valdez is the clear top of the board, though as one can probably imagine he is drawing staggering popularity. The balance of the slate includes pitching luminaries such as Kyle Hendricks, Glenn Otto, Chris Ellis, Tyler Alexander , and Louis Head. Among that group, Hendricks is the most reliably proven, but he is generally a low-upside play who falls below other names on that list in probability of being a top-two scorer on DraftKings.

Valdez’ incredible chase for a 70% groundball rate for the season continues against the lowly Rangers this evening. Valdez comes into action with a 69.2% mark in the category, the pitcher has been one of baseball’s best at limiting opposing hitter’s ability to elevate the ball and hit it out of the park. Valdez allows just a 5.8% barrel rate and a ridiculous -5.6-degree average launch angle. With everything being driven into the ground, his 42.6% hard-hit rate is barely a concern. He has a 22% strikeout rate for the season, and he walks too many with an ugly 10.1% rate, but he has the talent to get through this Texas lineup with ease. The Rangers’ active roster has just a 2.29% home run rate against left-handed pitching with a .122 collective ISO that is the worst mark in baseball against either hand, they have a severe lack of power. The team creates runs 23% worse than average in the split, though they have been decent at limiting strikeouts, coming into the night with a 21.2% rate that is one of the better marks in the league. Despite the overall lack of strikeout upside, Valdez stands an excellent chance of being the highest-scoring pitcher on both sites, even if only by virtue of the near-total lack of competition. He is drawing the highest ownership total in recent memory, pulling in more than 80% popularity in DraftKings projections.

On the blue site, Montgomery is the clear alternative to Valdez. He comes in as an $8,800 option on the site and will be drawing significant ownership that exceeds his probability of being the top pitcher by a wide margin. Montgomery has a 23.7% strikeout rate on the season and has pitched to a 4.04 xFIP with a 1.25 WHIP. He has been solid at limiting quality contact, allowing just a 35.8% hard-hit rate and a 7.1% barrel rate this season. He is facing an Orioles team that is underrated against lefties, though his less talented teammate carved them up for 11 strikeouts in a dominant performance just last night. Overall, the Baltimore active roster has a 3.99% home run rate and a .179 ISO while creating runs seven percent better than average in the split, and they have a 23.6% strikeout rate that is around the league average. Montgomery has upside, but he will not deliver in the quest for positive leverage on this tiny slate, for that MLB DFS gamers will have to dumpster-dive.

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Otto has a 28.6% strikeout rate over his first 13 innings in the Majors, but he is not a premium prospect and is unlikely to sustain that success for long. He has been very sharp for Texas so far, pitching to a 2.99 xFIP and walking just 3.6% of hitters while yielding a 5.6% barrel rate and just a 27.8% hard-hit percentage. Otto will be the second-most popular pitcher on the DraftKings slate but technically comes with positive leverage, given his probability of being a top-two selection. He stands at a very strong positive leverage mark on FanDuel, though his shot at the singular top score is significantly lower from site to site. To throw cold water on the play, Otto is facing a deadly Astros lineup. Houston has a .173 ISO and a 3.85% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season and they strike out at just a 20.5% clip. The team’s active roster has created runs 17% better than average against righties, casting a major shadow over the potential for a tournament-winning score from Otto.

New York Yankees

The loaded Yankees lineup is flashing major power upside in the home run model once again, they lead the power index above and they are the top-ranked team by a significant margin on the Top Stacks Tool for the blue site. There will be no ownership holes in the foreseeable Yankees lineup, however, unlike last night when the left-handed bats were under-owned, there is massive popularity tonight and every hitter in the lineup is pulling an ownership projection of more than 20% with the lone exception of Brett Gardner, who is not a premium play. The Yankees are difficult to roster in unique combinations when running full stacks, but utilizing individuals in oddball combinations with pieces from other teams is still viable.

Houston Astros

The Astros lead the way among teams available on both sites. Unsurprisingly, the team is trending for a great shot at the top score of the day and they fall at somewhat positive leverage, despite heavy ownership on several key hitters. There is no way to get fully away from popularity today, so embracing chalk but thinking about how to combine it with other pieces in unique ways becomes the focus. The Astros offer a number of interesting hitters that fit into this idea, anyone who has followed along through the season should already be thinking the name Yuli Gurriel, who is featured here as frequently as he is under-owned in tournaments. Gurriel hits in the middle of the Astros lineup every day, and he creates runs 36% better than average while slashing .314/.382/.466 with a .153 ISO. Additional Astros bats pulling low ownership include Jake Meyers and Martin Maldonado on the DraftKings slate, while Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Chas McCormick join them as playable options in stacks on the blue site. That list obviously missing Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, and Kyle Tucker, who are all crushingly popular across the industry. Much like the Yankees, they require a bit of consideration to differentiation when constructing lineups.

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Philadelphia Phillies

With Hendricks pulling in some popularity on both sites as the opposing pitcher, the under-owned Phillies appear to be a solid tournament consideration this evening. Hendricks has just a 16.9% strikeout rate over his 166.2 innings this season and has pitched to a 4.59 xFIP and a 1.34 WHIP. He  has allowed just a 32.9% hard-hit rate this season, but he does yield an eight percent barrel rate that is targetable for sequential hitting and run creation when combined with his low strikeout rate. The Phillies offense has been average across the board against both hands this season, arguably underperforming their talent levels. Against righties, the active roster has a .169 ISO with a 3.72% home run rate while striking out 22.3% of the time and creating runs seven percent behind the curve. On this slate and against this starter, there is a touch of upside in getting to Philadelphia bats this evening. It should be noted that all mentions of low ownership below are relative to this slate, checking individual popularity going into lock will be important as things will change through the afternoon.

Odubel Herrera is slashing .255/.310/.420 with a .165 ISO this season but he has created runs five percent behind the curve and is somewhat miscast as a leadoff hitter. Herrera has just a .277 on-base percentage when he is batting first and has created runs 11% worse than average in the role this season. He has a respectable 40.2% hard-hit rate that he has turned into 13 home runs over 428 plate appearances, and he strikes out just 15.7% of the time. The contact and marginal power make him a playable option at low ownership for MLB DFS purposes.

Jean Segura strikes out just 13.1% of the time, ranking him fifth in baseball among hitters with 500 plate appearances or more (Gurriel lands second at 11.2%, David Fletcher leads the way at 9.1%). Segura is slashing .295/.356/.442 this season, and he has created runs 15% better than average. It is borderline inexplicable that Segura hits second behind Herrera in this configuration of the lineup. He has 12 home runs and nine stolen bases this season as well, just adding to his MLB DFS quality. He is affordable and under-owned on both sites, and he brings the bonus of triple-eligibility on the blue site where he can be rostered as a second or third baseman or at shortstop, allowing for remarkable lineup flexibility on a slate where it is desperately required.

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Bryce Harper leads the team with 32 home runs and has added 13 stolen bases on the season. He has a fantastic 17.2% barrel rate to go with his 48.3% hard-hit percentage this year. Harper is slashing .309/.424/.614 and he has a monster .305 ISO while creating runs 71% better than average. This is unmistakably one of the best offensive weapons in all of baseball. Harper is pricey and popular, but he deserves to be in lineups.

J.T. Realmuto has made 474 plate appearances this season, a high total for a catcher that comes in a year that saw him battle lingering injuries. Realmuto has cracked 15 home runs and is slashing .267/.352/.445 with a WRC+ that sits 14% better than average. He has a 45.3% hard-hit rate and walks 10.1% of the time, but he does strike out at a 23.4% clip. Realmuto will be astonishingly popular on the DraftKings slate, but so will every option at his position not playing for the Rangers tonight. Simply rostering the best option at a lousy position and moving on is easy enough.

Brad Miller is having a solid season at the plate, somewhat unexpectedly. Miller has an excellent 49.7% hard-hit rate and a 12.2% barrel rate this season. He has translated the quality contact into 18 home runs and a .232 ISO in just 330 plate appearances and he creates runs seven percent better than average overall. Miller strikes out at a hefty 30.3% rate but adds a 12.1% walk rate to help level them. He is too cheap for his pop at $2,400 on FanDuel, where he will be owned in just the mid-teens. On DraftKings he pulls in a $3,400 price tag that is also too low, but he will be trending toward more than 20% popularity.

Andrew McCutchen is still excellent at drawing walks, coming in with a 14.2% rate this season, but he has slipped with his contact while seeing his strikeout rate increase and his overall production dip. Overall, McCutchen is slashing .218/.332/.432 but still has a steady .213 ISO and creates runs six percent better than average. He has 24 home runs and six stolen bases in his 515 plate appearances this year and makes for an appealing option at prices that are too low industrywide. McCutchen is cheap at $3,800 on DraftKings and for a $1,000 less across town, and he is relatively unpopular.

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Didi Gregorius will be popular at the shortstop position. He is slashing just .217/.276/.377 on the year with a .160 ISO while creating runs 26% worse than average in 351 plate appearances. Gregorius has 11 home runs and a stolen base in the semi-limited sample, and he is capable of more power. He hit 20 home runs in 2016, 25 in 2017, and 27 in 2018 while playing for the Yankees, adding 16 in just 344 plate appearances in an injury-shortened 2019 and another 10 in 237 plate appearances for Philadelphia in the COVID-shortened season in 2020.

Ronald Torreyes has seen 311 plate appearances this year which is in itself surprising. He has a high of 336 plate appearances in 2017 with the Yankees and has never been over the 170 mark in any other year. This season, Torreyes has turned his opportunity into a .243/.287/.347 triple-slash with six home runs and two stolen bases. He has a .104 ISO and creates runs 29% worse than league average for the season. Torreyes is not a major source of likely MLB DFS point-scoring, but this is one of the more variable slates of the season.

HR Call: Jonathan Schoop — Detroit Tigers

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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