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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 8/26/21

Terry McBride



Thursday evening features a very interesting nine game MLB DFS slate. There are several high-end pitchers in difficult matchups, and the slate has a broad mid-range from which to draw less expensive options. There are several major upside spots for bats, with team stacks popping against obviously targetable pitchers, while a few excellent options are trending for low ownership and strong leverage. In the mid-afternoon, this is looking like an ideal tournament slate with an extremely wide range of outcomes. Utilizing the Top Pitchers Tool is the best approach to finding a starting point on the mound. Using Awesemo’s expert MLB DFS projections, let’s get into the optimal MLB DFS lineup picks today for DraftKings and FanDuel.

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 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

Arizona Diamondbacks: Asdrubal Cabrera — 6.17

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 5.03

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 17.91

Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez — 11.11

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger — 8.81

Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm — 9.32

Minnesota Twins: Mitch Garver — 10.12

New York Mets: Javier Baez — 8.18

New York Yankees: Anthony Rizzo — 14.39

Oakland Athletics: Mitch Moreland — 8.77

Philadelphia Phillies: Didi Gregorius — 6.28

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 9.29

San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer — 7.12

San Francisco Giants: Alex Dickerson — 6.57

Seattle Mariners: Abraham Toro — 4.76

St. Louis Cardinals: Dylan Carlson — 5.72

Texas Rangers: Adolis Garcia — 10.16

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 18.09

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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 DraftKings FanDuel lineup picks today Yahoo ESPN CBS free expert fantasy baseball rankings projections optimal optimizer home run predictions yankees juan soto padres dodgers cardinals red sox las vegas betting odds

MLB DFS 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

On name recognition alone, this is a loaded pitching slate. Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish and Chris Sale are all slated to pitch, though Scherzer and Darvish will be dueling one another and facing excellent offenses on either side. Sale draws a power-packed Minnesota team that falls surprisingly below average against lefties and could vault the starter to the top of the board. Less expensive options abound in the quality tier below the aces. Elieser Hernandez is in a plus spot taking on the weak Nationals, while Alex Wood draws the Mets. Patrick Corbin projects well in the Top Starters Tool but is difficult to trust in the midst of a terrible season. The balance of the mid-range is made up of playable options including Jameson Taillon, Yusei Kikuchi, Carlos Carrasco, James Kaprielian and Zac Gallen. Each of the pitchers on that list has both bright spots and reasons to be skeptical, but the upside provided by their low salaries and potential for success cannot be ignored.

Sale has thrown five innings in each of his two starts since returning from the injured list. He struck out 13 of the 40 hitters he has faced (32.5%) and has a 1.93 xFIP with a 2.5% walk rate and 1.20 WHIP. Sale has induced a 14.4% swinging strike rate in the tiny sample and has allowed just a 3.8% barrel rate. He is unquestionably one of the top talents on this slate; the only concern is the potential depth restriction for his price tag. At $10,200 on DraftKings and $10,700 on FanDuel, Sale is pricey but not overly popular. Even in another five-inning game, he has upside. The Twins active roster has a 24.1% strikeout rate against lefties this season. Minnesota’s power comes mostly against right-handed pitching, against lefties the team has just an average 3.79% home run rate and a slightly below average .166 ISO, while creating runs 9% worse than average. Sale can cruise through this lineup twice while posting more than a handful of strikeouts and earning significant MLB DFS points, if he pitches beyond the fifth the upside just grows.

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Of the two pitchers in the Dodgers – Padres game, it is Scherzer who draws the better overall projection, but Darvish who comes at more user-friendly ownership numbers. Both starters are prime options on most slates, but in this case, Darvish will be facing a Dodgers lineup that is sixth best in baseball with a collective WRC+ 10% above average, ninth with a .180 ISO, eighth with a 4.12% home run rate and seventh with a 22.3% strikeout rate against righties. On the other side, Scherzer draws a Padres team somewhat on the decline. San Diego has just a .164 ISO and a 3.53% home run rate, both in the middle of the league in the split. The Padres still create runs above average against righties, but only by 2%. They are good at limiting strikeouts, however, coming in with a 20.9% rate that ranks second-best in baseball in the split. Darvish is not only facing the better lineup, but he also has the lower overall numbers of the two options. For the season, he has a 29.9% strikeout rate and a 5.7% walk rate. He has thrown 131.1 innings, pitching to a 3.67 xFIP and a 1.03 WHIP while inducing 12.6% swinging strikes and yielding just 34.2% hard contact. His opponent, however, has an excellent 34.4% strikeout rate with a 3.33 xFIP and a 0.91 WHIP over his 132.1 innings. Scherzer has induced a 15.8% swinging strike rate and gives up just a 33.6% hard-hit rate. Both pitchers are excellent in a matchup, cost and ownership vacuum. For tournament play, Darvish is seemingly the slightly better option given a lower cost and positive leverage marks. Any well-constructed portfolio of lineups will feature shares of both starters tonight.

At a far lower price point than his peers, Hernandez is an intriguing option on this slate. He costs just $7,600 on both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight, but he is not pulling extreme shares of ownership despite a plus matchup against the lousy Nationals. Hernandez has made four starts this season, completing 17.1 innings and posting a 26.4% strikeout rate with just a 4.2% walk rate. He has a 4.19 xFIP and a 0.98 WHIP and induces a 12.3% swinging strike rate. He has yielded a 10.4% barrel rate, which is on the extreme end, but manages to limit hard contact to just 33.3%, though he has yielded five home runs in the tiny sample, a concerning 2.60 HR/9. While Hernandez is not nearly the caliber pitcher that the three aces are, he has solid upside against a Nationals team with an active roster that has just a .134 ISO and a 2.77% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season. Washington strikes out 23.3% of the time in the split and they create runs 14% worse than average. A significant MLB DFS point total would not be a surprise from Hernandez in this spot, but he is trending for significant SP2 ownership on the DraftKings slate. Hernandez is a more viable option on the blue site, where his single-digit ownership is closer to his probability of being the top option despite still being negatively leveraged.

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Southpaw Alex Wood leads the Giants into Queens to face a Mets roster that has gotten healthier in recent days, but still struggles to keep their collective head above water in most hitting categories. Against left-handed pitching, the Mets have a collective 99 WRC+, 1% below average for run creation. They are well below average with just a .141 ISO, but they have an average 3.53% home run rate and strike out at an average 24% in the split. Wood, meanwhile, has had a solid year on the mound overall. He has thrown 120.1 innings and has a 3.57 xFIP with a 25.4% strikeout rate. He has induced a 12.4% swinging strike rate and has a 31.9% CSW. Wood allows just a 5.7% barrel rate, but yields 41.7% hard hit, most of which come well below home run trajectory at a 7.5-degree average launch angle. He is in the mid-range by price, coming in at $8,200 on FanDuel and $8,700 on DraftKings. He will be popular but playable on both sites, landing at slightly negative leverage marks across the industry.


The soon-to-be Guardians — Cleveland’s baseball team for anyone not following headlines — is a highly ranked stack by probability of success on this slate, but they are trending for significant ownership across both DraftKings and FanDuel. The fairly priced Cleveland roster is the most negatively leveraged stack on both sites, they are simply too highly owned despite the strong situation. Cleveland is at home facing righty Jordan Lyles, who has just an 18.5% strikeout rate over 138.1 innings this season. Lyles has a lousy 4.99 xFIP and a 1.46 WHIP while allowing a 10% barrel rate and 43.4% hard contact. He is an incredibly targetable pitcher, but all of Cleveland’s most desirable hitters are tied up with major ownership projections. The top five hitters are all projected between 13 and 27% on DraftKings, while hitters two through five are projected between 14 and 32% ownership on FanDuel. The popularity lands squarely on the obvious names in the Cleveland lineup, namely: Amed Rosario, Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes and Bradley Zimmer. Leadoff man Myles Straw is less popular on the FanDuel slate, but his upside comes largely from run scoring and stolen bases. On the back end of the lineup, Owen Miller, Daniel Johnson, Austin Hedges and Andres Gimenez provide varying degrees of upside and some ability to offset ownership, but three of those options are hitting below the Mendoza line (.200) and the highest ISO in the group is Hedges’ .106. Collectively, the final four hitters in the lineup have a WRC+ that averages a 52 (48% below league average). That mark includes Johnson’s 100, removing him leaves the other three hitters with a WRC+ average of 36, or 64% below average. Assuming their popularity holds or climbs through the day, this is not a great option for tournament play. Cleveland will be a popular selection for anyone paying up for pitching as well, compounding the problem in that a wide cross-section of Cleveland stacks will be owned with the same pitching, subsequently leaving the same pool of remaining salary that will lead to specific second stacks. This is an option that will lead down a very clear roster construction path that ends with shared lineups.

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Philadelphia Phillies

A highly ranked team in the Top Stacks Tool, the Phillies land with positive leverage on DraftKings and around even on the FanDuel slate. Philadelphia falls mostly around league average against right-handed pitching. The active roster has a .161 ISO and a 3.50% home run rate in the split, while creating runs 12% behind the average. Philadelphia strikes out just 23% of the time, among the better marks in baseball, but they fail to translate the balls in play into reliable run creation. The Phillies will be facing Zac Gallen, a good pitcher who has thrown 80.1 innings in 16 starts this season. He has a 3.93 xFIP and an excellent 27.4% strikeout rate, but he walks too many at 10% and allows premium contact with a 7.9% barrel rate and a 41.1% hard hit. He will be owned in just the single digits despite a $7,200 price on DraftKings and the low single-digits for $7,900 on the blue site. The Phillies bats are outpacing his probability of success, however, and they should be the focus. Priority hitters include: Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen. Projected leadoff man Odubel Herrera is a good correlation play, while Didi Gregorius can provide positional pop at shortstop and Ronald Torreyes at least fills out a lineup at low cost.

New York Yankees

The surging Yankees are in Oakland’s pitcher-friendly park tonight. New York has won 11 games in a row, their best run since 1985, and they have a loaded lineup that is yet to regain full health. New York will be facing James Kaprielian, a former organizational prospect who has had a reasonably solid debut campaign in 2021. He has a 23.8% strikeout rate but a 4.61 xFIP over 88.2 innings. He walks 9% of opposing hitters and has compiled just a 28.4% CSW while allowing 40.7% hard hits and an 8.2% barrel rate with an 18.8-degree average launch angle. That is ideal for home run upside, which leads to the Yankees’ top billing in today’s power index above. New York’s lineup can be rostered from top to bottom in this situation. They come in at reasonable pricing on both DraftKings and FanDuel, and they are positively leveraged as of the mid-afternoon update to projected ownership.

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D.J. LeMahieu is slashing .278/.369/.433 with a .156 ISO in the dog days, but his season-long line stands at just .268/.351/.373 with a .105 ISO. LeMahieu has boosted his run creation back into the black, coming in with a mark 3% above average by WRC+. LeMahieu still strikes out just 14.6% of the time. Between his hitting acumen rounding into form and his general on-base skills, LeMahieu makes for a fine, and likely underpriced, option on both sites.

Anthony Rizzo has just a 15.3% strikeout rate this season and is slashing .241/.341/.437 with a .196 ISO while creating runs 11% ahead of the average. Rizzo makes hard contact 42.1% of the time and has a 9% barrel rate that he has translated into 17 home runs. He is affordable at $3,500 on FanDuel and far too cheap at $3,400 on DraftKings, where he is pulling the highest ownership mark on the team.

Aaron Judge has a massive 55.8% hard-hit rate and a 17% barrel rate. He does strike out 25.6% of the time, but he walks 12.7% and is slashing .285/.378/.522 with a .237 ISO while creating runs 46% better than average. He will only be owned in the 5% range across the industry despite fair pricing, he should be more popular and belongs in most Yankees stacks.

Joey Gallo has hit 29 home runs this season and creates runs 28% ahead of the average despite just a .206 batting average. Gallo makes hard contact 46% of the time with a team-leading 18.3% barrel rate. He strikes out at a massive 34.6% clip, but his 19.1% walk rate is second to only Juan Soto among qualified hitters in all of baseball. Gallo draws a huge mark in the home run model, and he is under-owned at less than 10% on DraftKings for a ridiculous $4,200 price. At $3,700 on FanDuel he is the only hitter to crack double-digit ownership, but he can be rostered with ease.

Giancarlo Stanton has made 439 plate appearances and has 22 home runs with a .214 ISO. He is slashing .267/.367/.481 and has created runs 34% better than average by WRC+. He is Judge’s rival in hard hit percentage, coming in just short at 55.6% while barreling the ball 14.7% of the time. Stanton strikes out at a 27.3% clip but is another discerning hitter with a 13% walk rate. For just $4,200, Stanton is virtually unowned on the DraftKings slate. He is even less popular for $3,800 on the FanDuel slate.

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Gio Urshela is expected back in the Yankees lineup this evening. On the season he has 11 home runs and a .165 ISO in his 330 plate appearances. He is slashing .274/.315/.439 while creating runs 6% better than average. Urshela is not nearly the player that many think he is, but in this situation he is playable for MLB DFS purposes if he is in the lineup.

Gary Sanchez has an excellent 13.9% barrel rate and a good 42.6% hard-hit rate. He strikes out 27.6% of the time but counters with a 12.5% walk rate and has hit 17 home runs with a .222 ISO in 344 plate appearances. Sanchez is one of baseball’s most productive catchers for power and run upside despite an unsightly .219/.326/.441 triple-slash.

Brett Gardner is up to a .213/.329/.325 triple-slash with a .112 ISO and is now creating runs just 13% behind the average. He has hit just five home runs this year and has a meager 3.3% barrel rate with a 30.7% hard hit, but he does draw walks 14.2% of the time and is getting on base with more reliability. Gardner is not a great play, but he can offset cost at just $2,100 on DraftKings and $2,200 on FanDuel, and he will be unowned.

Andrew Velazquez has stolen three bases in 42 plate appearances and had another 26 in Triple-A this year. He has hit one home run in the majors and comes in slashing .244/.262/.415 with a .171 ISO. Velazquez has an undeveloped eye and has walked just 2.4% of the time while striking out 35.7% in the small sample. Still, when he connects, he makes quality contact, coming in with an 11.5% barrel rate and a 42.3% hard-hit mark. Velazquez is not a key option in the loaded Yankees lineup, but he should also not be skipped at the minimum price on DraftKings and $2,100 on FanDuel.

HR Call: Juan Soto — Washington Nationals

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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