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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/24/21

Terry McBride

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Friday features a full 15-game MLB DFS slate to kick off the season’s penultimate weekend, at least on DraftKings. FanDuel has a 13-game affair that leaves out the shortened games. The schedule features several matchups that will be crucial for various team’s playoff chances, and it includes a robust pitching selection. Game totals are relatively low outside of Colorado, and the average home run probabilities captured in the power index below are relatively low compared to the dog days of summer. The slate has ownership that is highly concentrated around a few of the obvious teams at the top of the list, while a broad selection of stacks sits under-owned in the middle of the board. Getting to a wide range of outcomes in both pitching and hitting is advisable on an evenly distributed slate like this, particularly for large-field tournaments. The home run picks and power index below focus on the 13 games that appear on the slate on both DraftKings and FanDuel. With that, let’s get into the best MLB DFS lineups picks for 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 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 — 3.43

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 9.33

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 12.76

Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 6.55

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos — 9.99

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 12.26

Colorado Rockies: C.J. Cron — 8.23

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera — 6.33

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 11.52

Kansas City Royals: Adalberto Mondesi — 7.67

Los Angeles Angels: Jack Mayfield — 5.50

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager — 7.64

Miami Marlins: Lewin Diaz — 11.54

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 7.77

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 8.50

New York Mets: Jonathan Villar — 6.68

New York Yankees: Anthony Rizzo — 7.36

Oakland Athletics: Matt Chapman — 8.67

Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper — 11.43

Pittsburgh Pirates: Yoshi Tsutsugo — 7.30

San Francisco Giants: Evan Longoria — 9.75

Seattle Mariners: Abraham Toro — 7.03

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 13.64

Texas Rangers: Nate Lowe — 10.82

Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Semien — 14.99

Washington Nationals: Josh Bell — 7.36

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.

DraftKings FanDuel MLB DFS lineup picks today optimal optimizer free expert rankings fantasy baseball cheat sheet tips advice tournament strategy GPP home run predictions best bets power rankings index Blue Jays Yankees Astros Dodgers 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

The Friday pitching slate runs deep and presents an interesting set of decisions. Gerrit Cole will lead the Yankees into Fenway Park for a showdown with the rival Red Sox that could go a long way to deciding final playoff situations with the two bitter rivals separated by two games in the AL Wild Card standings and the Blue Jays just a game back. Cole can be a dominant force in any matchup, but he has a tougher row to hoe than Dylan Cease, who will face Cleveland, or Sonny Gray, who matches up against the Nationals at heavy ownership and negative leverage. Seattle’s Logan Gilbert is underpriced and overly popular in a good spot against the Angels and Jose Berrios stands a chance at relevance if he can get through the Twins lineup while finding a few strikeouts. On name recognition, Shane Bieber may stand out to many casual gamers, but the Cleveland ace will be limited to 50 or 55 pitches – with Cleveland’s pitching coach specifically saying “we should be looking at about three innings” – and is not a viable option at $11,300 on the DraftKings slate or $10,700 on FanDuel in his first start since late June. Value plays can be found in Kyle Gibson, who is a low-upside play against the usually lame Pirates offense, Tylor Megill facing the Brewers, Carlos Hernandez against the Tigers, and Max Fried on the DraftKings slate only.

Cole has made 28 starts this season and has a 2.87 xFIP and a 34.2% strikeout rate. He is a dominant pitcher and firmly in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award once again. Cole has a 5.6% walk rate and a 1.03 WHIP on the season while inducing a terrific 14.8% swinging-strike rate and compiling a 32.3% CSW. He has yielded a 9.2% barrel rate and a 37.6% hard-hit percentage this season, but his 1.12 HR/9 (3.1%) is the lowest he has posted since 2018. The lone downside is that Cole is facing a Red Sox lineup that has been spectacular against right-handed pitching all season. The active roster has a .210 ISO and a 4.59% home run rate in the split and they strike out at a better-than-average rate of just 22.5% against righties. Boston creates runs 12% better than league average by collective WRC+ in the split as well, this is a very good offense. Cole lands near the top of the Top Pitchers Tool for today, and he comes with significant positive leverage across the industry. This is a great tournament play. Cole easily stands enough of a chance at delivering the top pitcher score of the night.

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Cease has one of the highest strikeout rates on the slate, coming into the night with a 31.6% mark. He has pitched to a 3.81 xFIP overall and still puts too many men on base. He has a 9.8% walk rate and a 1.26 WHIP, but he has induced a 14.6% swinging-strike rate and compiled a 30.2% CSW. Cease stands out for being priced at just $9,000 on both sites as well. He will be facing a Cleveland roster that is an at-best average team across the board against righties. The team has a .166 ISO and a 3.72% home run rate that are around the middle of the league, their 24.1% strikeout rate slips into the bottom half of rankings and they create runs 7% worse than average in the split. This is a good spot for Cease, but there is potential for power on the other side as well. Cease is projected to be negatively leveraged across both FanDuel and DraftKings this evening, his low price is pushing too much public ownership in his direction for a slate of this size. Undercutting the field and spreading shares out to the positively leverage pitching plays makes sense.

Berrios is an interesting case of a good pitcher coming in at positive leverage for his probability of being a top scorer on the DraftKings slate. He will be facing his former team in Minnesota in a matchup that plays to the hitter’s better side of splits. The Twins are much better against righties, they have a .185 ISO and a 4.18% home run rate while creating runs at the league average by WRC+ and striking out at a slightly above average 23.1% rate in the split. Berrios has a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 3.68 xFIP over 180 innings in 30 outings. He has a 1.07 WHIP with a 5.9% walk rate that minimizes potential damage from an inflated 9.2% barrel rate. Berrios allows a 38.9% hard-hit percentage and limits average exit velocity to 88.5 mph, which is going a long way toward dampening the home run upside of the opposing Twins. For $9,700 on FanDuel and $9,500 on DraftKings, Berrios makes for an excellent pitching pivot who lands at single-digit ownership projections.

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Sonny Gray has been mostly good across 24 starts for the Reds. He has a 27.4% strikeout rate and a 3.59 xFIP and he has been excellent with limiting premium contact all year. Gray has a 4.2% barrel rate and a 30.7% hard-hit percentage and yields just a 9.2-degree average launch angle. He is difficult to hit for power and he has significant upside for strikeouts when he is going right. He will be facing a Nationals lineup that has been a target for weeks. Washington’s active roster limits strikeouts to just 22.5%, though much of that is concentrated around the amazing Juan Soto and his running-mate Josh Bell, who are the two true threats in this lineup, there are strikeouts or small sample specialists in most of the other spots in the lineup. The Nationals are lousy at everything else, they have just a .147 ISO and a 3.15% home run rate and create runs 9% worse than average. Gray is an inexpensive quality option on both sites, but his ownership is currently projecting to levels that are roughly triple his probability of posting a mandatory score, making him a tight squeeze for leverage and the opportunity to create unique lineups.

It is difficult to trust Carlos Hernandez, even against a lineup like the Tigers. He has a 21.6% strikeout rate and an ugly 4.88 xFIP this season. He has walked a whopping 11.2% and has a 1.30 WHIP while inducing an 11.2% swinging strike rate but only compiling a 25.1% CSW that reveals where the walks come from. Hernandez has allowed a 7.1% barrel rate and a 39.3% hard-hit percentage, but he has yielded just a 0.78 HR/9 (2.07%). He is facing a Tigers team that is near the worst in the league with a 25.9% strikeout rate in the split. Detroit creates runs 10% behind the curve and has just a 3.45% home run rate and a .161 collective ISO. This is a bad lineup facing a shaky pitcher, but Hernandez rates as a solid value play who is drawing a bit too much popularity on the DraftKings slate but stands at positive leverage where he is far less necessary on the blue site.

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San Francisco Giants

The Giants have been one of baseball’s best offenses all season and they will be in Coors Field for the weekend. Expect to see the team listed as the top probability of posting a slate-leading score on our Top Stacks Tool through Sunday. Tonight’s anticipated onslaught will come against righty Pete Lambert, who made 19 starts at the Major League level for the Rockies as a 22-year-old in 2019. Lambert posted a 7.25 ERA and a 5.29 xFIP (5.97 FIP) and a 13.6% strikeout rate in the 89.1 innings. The Giants are drawing a significant amount of popularity, but technically their probability of success is still outpacing anticipated ownership. Go-to Giants bats include the entire lineup from top to bottom. The best approach toward rostering this team will be to utilize individual Ownership Projections to help find players who can offset more popularity from teammates and make for lower ownership products within a stack.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are leaping to the top of the home run model’s power index for this matchup. The hard-hitting club features a projected lineup that has an average hard-hit rate approaching 45%. The team is excellent at limiting strikeouts and keeping the ball in play and their 4.64% home run rate against right-handed pitching is second-best in baseball. The team is facing Bailey Ober who has a 25.1% strikeout rate this season but allows a 9.6% barrel rate and a 42.6% hard-hit percentage on an average launch angle of 19.7 degrees. Ober has given up 19 home runs to the 359 hitters he has faced in 87 innings, a 5.29% home run rate and 1.97 HR/9 that will not play well against this Blue Jays lineup. Go to Toronto bats include George Springer, Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel. Additional values can be found in Corey Dickerson and power-hitting catcher Danny Jansen, while Breyvic Valera is more of an afterthought at the end of the lineup.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are in a strange situation. They rank well in terms of probability of success against popularity, pulling in positive leverage on both sites. The issue comes with the fact that they will be facing one of baseball’s best pitchers for the first three innings or so of the game. Bieber, limited as he may be by pitch count, stands a strong chance of striking out a number of White Sox hitters while holding the lineup down over the course of the time he is in the game. Chicago will then face a Cleveland bullpen that has a 4.05 xFIP for the season, the ninth-best mark out of baseball’s 30 teams. The Cleveland relief corps has a 24.8% strikeout rate and 10% walk rate that are both exactly in the middle of the league. The bullpen matchup does not do a lot to boost the opportunity for the White Sox. On talent alone, however, Chicago is always worthy of consideration when they come up at positive leverage. The team is loaded with quality hitters like Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert. The lineup features additional values in Gavin Sheets, Cesar Hernandez, and Leury Garcia, with Brian Goodwin standing a chance to crack the final lineup as well.

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New York Yankees

What would September be without rivalry-based baseball games where the player and fan dynamics are perfectly mirrored by the chill in the air. The bitter rivals will square off in an important game for both teams, as the top squads in the AL East jockey for playoff positioning, with whoever finishes third going home for the year. With Toronto looking very likely to win, this game is crucial for New York to stay ahead and locked into the second Wild Card spot, while the Red Sox will drop back significantly with a loss. The Yankees benefit from having Cole on the mound, while the Red Sox will counter with effective Nathan Eovaldi. He will be untouched by the public at a fair price against a strikeout-happy lineup. Eovaldi has a 26% strikeout rate and a 3.42 xFIP this season and has walked just 4.4% of opposing hitters while yielding a 6.2% barrel rate and a 35.8% hard-hit percentage. All of these are quality marks, but the loaded Yankees lineup is underpriced and under-owned across the industry, they deserve consideration against even a pitcher of Eovaldi’s caliber and draw a reasonably high position on the Top Stacks Tool.

D.J. LeMahieu will be the most popular Yankees bat on the DraftKings slate, which says a lot about what the public thinks of this stack today. LeMahieu is inexpensive for his long-term talent, but his .268/.349/.363 line this season dictates that it is a correct value for this version of the player. LeMahieu has been a major disappointment for the Yankees this season, plummeting to just a 100 WRC+, exactly the league average for run creation. He has just 10 home runs and a .095 ISO this season after being a steady force for mid-range power for his first two seasons in pinstripes. Still, LeMahieu has a long track record of wielding one of the league’s best hit tools. He still strikes out at just a 13.9% rate and walks at a 10.7% clip that keeps him in play for correlation with the power bats.

Anthony Rizzo is too cheap and entirely unowned, coming in at less than 2% popularity across the industry. Rizzo has just a 14.9% strikeout rate this season and walks in 9.5% of opportunities. He has 20 home runs and a .189 ISO this season while slashing .249/.348./.458 and creating runs 13% better than average. He is a terrific option from near the top of the Yankees lineup and remains such if Aaron Boone decides to get creative again and drops him to a later spot in the batting order.

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Aaron Judge has 36 home runs and has a .250 ISO over 595 plate appearances this season, slashing .287/.371/.537 and creating runs 47% better than average. Judge strikes out at a 25.5% clip but walks 11.6% of the time and has a monster 57.7% hard-hit rate with a 17.3% barrel percentage. The hard-hit mark leads baseball, and the barrel rate lands seventh overall. Judge is an expensive option at $5,400 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel. The low salaries on all of his teammates make him easy to afford.

Giancarlo Stanton has 31 home runs and a .229 ISO, 26.9% strikeout rate, 11.1% walk rate, 15.3% barrel rate and 55.6% hard-hit rate. He is slashing .269/.352/.498 and has created runs 32% better than average for the season, yet he costs just $4,500 on DraftKings and $3,900 on the blue site.

Joey Gallo has an 18.8% barrel rate that is the third-best mark in baseball. His hard-hit percentage stands at 46.1%, which is very good but should be higher given the barrel rate. He has 38 home runs in 584 plate appearances and a .274 ISO while creating runs 29% better than average. Gallo has a 34.2% strikeout rate but an 18.7% walk rate, both of which rank second in baseball at opposite ends of the quality spectrum. Gallo is cheap and undervalued across the industry.

Gleyber Torres joins LeMahieu as an underperforming Yankees middle infielder. Torres has just seven home runs and has a .097 ISO this season. Since hitting 38 home runs in 604 plate appearances in an excellent 2019 season, Torres has managed just 10 in 639 opportunities over 2020 and 2021. Torres is slashing just .257/.331/.354 and has created runs 8% below average. He has a playable upside for the price, but it is unreliable at best.

Brett Gardner has made 427 plate appearances and is slashing .220/.329/.355 with nine home runs and a .135 ISO. He has created runs 7% worse than average for the season, but his overall quality has picked up through the second half. Over 164 plate appearances in 54 games in the designated second half of the season, Gardner is slashing .250/.352/.415 and has created runs 13% better than average. For the extreme discount, he is once again worthy of playing as needed.

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Gio Urshela has 13 home runs and has a .152 ISO this season while creating runs 5% worse than average. He has a 41.4% hard-hit rate and an 8.1% barrel rate but strikes out at a 25.2% clip that is unsustainable for the power and run-creation marks that he provides. Urshela is OK to stick into a lineup as the last man, and he comes at a fair price for his abilities, but he is not a go-to play.

Kyle Higashioka has made 197 plate appearances this season and has a .184/.254/.408 triple-slash that may surprise those who seem to think he does amazing things with the bat every time he is in the lineup. That perception comes largely from his excellent contact and power marks, which come in at a 48.4% hard-hit rate and a 15.9% barrel rate that notable lands ahead of Stanton’s mark. Higashioka has 10 home runs and has a .223 ISO in his limited opportunities. He is a sneaky under-owned catcher play for GPPs, but gamers should not be disappointed with a zero in the spot.

HR Call: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — Toronto Blue Jays

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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