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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/22/21

Terry McBride

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MLB DFS lineup picks today DraftKings FanDUel fantasy baseball tournament strategy optimal lineup optimizer free expert projections

Wednesday brings an interesting 10-game slate after an afternoon washout throughout the Midwest. The main slate is short on premium pitching options, with a few quality starters in difficult matchups, ballparks or simply carrying question marks about their expected outings. The slate breaks down quickly on the pitching side, with numerous targetable starters taking the hill. There are power bats galore across a wealth of exciting stacks. Throw in a Coors Field game featuring one of the best offenses in baseball, and this could be a night of explosive MLB DFS point scoring. Using the projections as a guide for our MLB DFS picks today, let’s get into the top DraftKings and FanDuel plays.

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: Kole Calhoun — 3.77

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 9.50

Baltimore Orioles: Anthony Santander — 3.52

Boston Red Sox: Kyle Schwarber — 11.14

Chicago Cubs: Frank Schwindel — 10.16

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 8.17

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 15.00

Los Angeles Angels: Max Stassi — 5.13

Los Angeles Dodgers: Will Smith — 7.29

Milwaukee Brewers: Willy Adames — 9.47

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 11.46

New York Mets: Javier Baez — 13.23

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 15.37

Oakland Athletics: Mark Canha — 4.02

Philadelphia Phillies: Andrew McCutchen — 7.76

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers — 21.75

San Francisco Giants: Kris Bryant — 8.88

Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 5.77

St. Louis Cardinals: Tommy Edman — 3.52

Texas Rangers: Adolis Garcia — 6.51

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.

MLB DFS lineup picks today DraftKings FanDUel fantasy baseball tournament strategy optimal lineup optimizer free expert projections

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 hump-day pitching slate comes in with only a few truly reliable options. Despite a few bumps with earned runs and happenstance in the season’s second half, Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler has been a model of consistent quality throughout the season. Walker Buehler is excellent in most situations, but he will be pitching in Colorado’s Coors Field this evening, making the usually ultra-safe Dodgers ace a bit of a crapshoot. Chris Sale faces an underperforming Mets lineup but brings concerns about his overall depth of start. Houston’s Luis Garcia is in a strong spot against the Angels and he looks to provide under-owned quality from near the peak of the Top Pitchers Tool. Corey Kluber brings a bit of unpredictability and mediocrity to the mound in an upside start against the Rangers, while Ian Anderson lands at a compelling price and popularity point on both sites, while Joe Ryan is an extremely popular low-cost option in an above-average spot against the Cubs.

Wheeler has had a few starts through the second half where has yielded a handful of earned runs, which is largely out of his control. He had a 2.70 xFIP across 119.2 innings in the first half and is at a still excellent 3.13 mark for the 80.2 innings second half. Overall, he has thrown 200.1 innings in 30 starts and is among the league leaders in quality starts. He has a 2.88 xFIP with a 28.9% strikeout rate and a 4.8% barrel rate on the season. Wheeler walks a mere 5.4% and allows just a 28.4% hard-hit rate. He faces an Orioles team that is better against southpaws. On this side of splits, the Orioles active roster has a .165 ISO, a 3.61% home run rate and an aggressive 25.1% strikeout rate that creates upside. The Orioles create runs 9% worse than average against right-handed pitching, and Wheeler is justifiably the most popular pitcher across the industry this evening. His price and ownership marks certainly warrant an undercut, but with a less than reliable board behind him, there is not much reason to stray too far from the field on this play.

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Despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani, and perhaps because of the absence of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, the Angels lineup is at best average. The team’s active roster has a .169 ISO and a 3.59% home run rate against right-handed pitching that both rank around the middle of the league. They strike out at a below-average 25.2% clip in the split and create runs 2% behind the curve. Luis Garcia looks to benefit from the overall lack of danger in the opposing lineup. Garcia has been excellent through the season, pitching to a 3.81 xFIP and a 27.2% strikeout rate over 144.1 innings in 26 starts. He has walked 7.6% of opposing hitters and has a 1.16 WHIP with a 13.3% swinging-strike rate and a 30% CSW on the season. Garcia is shockingly unpopular at his $8,300 price tag on the blue site, this is a clear mistake by the field. He is equally unpopular for a far higher price at $10,000 on DraftKings, where he is also well worth the effort. With a lack of ownership in this spot, Garcia makes for a fine tournament play on both sites.

Sale is a bit of a concern on this slate. He pitched gamely in his first few outings back from the injured list before coming up with just a 3.2-inning start, albeit with six strikeouts, against Tampa Bay two outings back, following that up with a five-inning start in which he faced just 17 hitters and struck out only one against the Orioles last week, seeing a dip in his fastball velocity along the way. The Red Sox are strongly in the mix for an AL Wildcard slot and are attempting to juggle the management of starter workload going into the postseason while also attempting to ensure they get there in the first place. It is entirely within the expectation that Sale will be capped at five innings in this outing. If he comes out lagging in velocity, he may be out of the game quite a bit sooner. Sale is more than capable of striking out 10 of these Mets hitters in five or six innings, but there are major concerns that are not reflected in his pricing or popularity on DraftKings. On FanDuel, Sale is a more expensive proposition, but he comes with little ownership, which makes him slightly more compelling for the risk.

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Ryan has made three starts at the major League level, pitching through seven innings in his second outing and completing five in each of the first two. He has shown steady strikeout acumen through his career in the minors, and he has help up at a 23.3% rate over his first 17 innings in the Show. Ryan has demonstrated excellent control, walking a mere 3.3% of opposing hitters through his first three outings and posting a 0.53 WHIP. He has a 4.68 xFIP in the small sample but has induced a healthy 12% swinging-strike rate and allowed just a 27.3% hard-hit percentage despite an inflated 11.4% opposing barrel rate. He will be facing a Cubs team that is league-worst by strikeout rate against righties at 26.6%. The team is average for power in the split, they have a .162 ISO and a slightly above average 3.79% home run rate in the split but still manage to create runs 12% worse than average. Ryan has a clear upside toward a good score, particularly at his low prices industrywide. He is also going to be in nearly 25% of FanDuel lineups and 40% of DraftKings pitching shares. Put another way, Ryan will be twice as popular as he is likely to be a necessary play on DraftKings, three times as much on FanDuel. With that much public weight, it is fairly easy to look elsewhere for value. Grabbing a few of the Cubs’ power hitters is even a consideration in this spot, more so if the pitcher’s popularity grows through the late afternoon.

Park splits are small sample in the worst way, but Coors Field warrants a look at times. With Buehler on the mound, it is worth looking into his performance over nine career starts in the park. Buehler has a 20.4% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate with a 2.68% home run rate in Coors starts, with a 1.32 WHIP. Over the course of his full season, Buehler has a 25.8% strikeout rate and a 6.5% walk rate with a 0.96 WHIP and a 2.39% home run rate. For his full career, his strikeouts stand at 27.6% with walks falling at 6.4%. Small sample aside, it is safe to assume the best version of Buehler will not be on the hill tonight. He will still be facing a Rockies team that creates runs 23% worse than average against right-handed pitching across the course of the season. The team has a .163 ISO and a 23.2% strikeout rate with a 3.38% home run rate in the split, they are not great, but their home ballpark boosts those numbers across the board. Buehler has a $9,800 salary on DraftKings and a $9,400 mark on the blue site, but he will be owned by less than 1% of the public across the industry. On talent alone, he is worth more than that. Buehler carries a great than 5% probability of being the top pitcher on FanDuel and better than 10% at landing in the top-two across town. He is not a safe play, but he is a tournament play.

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Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are the top-ranked team on both sites by our probability of success metric in their matchup at Coors Field once again, but you knew that. They are also efficiently owned at worst on DraftKings and are positively leveraged on FanDuel. They make a great play for pure scoring upside, but they are by no means a secret. Go to bats include the entire lineup from top to bottom, but it is worth noting that they are not facing a pushover of a starter on this slate. German Marquez brings major quality to the mound in every start and he has had a long track record of successful outings in home starts at Coors. This season those numbers stand out even in the basic statistics, Marquez has a 5.38 ERA in 77 road innings and a sparkling 3.16 in 94 innings at Coors this season. Typically one would expect those numbers to be reversed in a way that would end most basic conversations on the topic. Marquez has a 23.8% strikeout rate at home and a 23.4% mark on the road. He walks more hitters in home starts, coming up at a 9.0% rate as compared to a 7.2% mark on the road, but he has pitched to a 3.51 xFIP at home and a 3.72 mark on the road (3.50/4.13 FIP). Marquez has a 1.40 HR/9 mark (3.63%) on the road and just a 0.77 (2.11%) at home. When looking at his full career splits, he has a 3.41 xFIP over those same home starts, a mark that compares quite favorably to his 3.80 xFIP in road starts. For his career, he has a 24.4% home strikeout rate and a 23.2% mark on the road while walking 7.1% at home and 6.5% while out of town. This is all to say that, while the Dodgers clearly have the most upside on the board, expectations should perhaps be tempered slightly.

San Francisco Giants

Yesterday’s featured team comes up highly ranked once again. The Giants are facing the highly targetable Vince Velasquez in a meeting of starters that time forgot, as they will have Scott Kazmir on the mound. Velasquez has yielded an 11.9% walk rate and an 11.3% barrel rate to opposing hitters this season. He also allows a 42.3% hard-hit percentage with 90.5 mph average exit velocity on a 20.1-degree average launch angle. This is also known as a home run. The Giants have a 4.56% home run rate against righties this season. The team has a .205 collective ISO in the split. Both marks are top-five. Fire away with Giants bats including Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, LaMonte Wade Jr., Kris Bryant, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria. Mike Yastrzemski’s power should not be skipped regardless of where he lands in the lineup, and additional correlation can be found in Tommy La Stella. The Giants projected lineup plays from one through eight.

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San Diego Padres

The Padres are drawing absurd numbers in the home run model. The team pulls down steady projections and is ranked well for upside, but they are drawing different popularity across sites. The team projects to be efficiently owned by the field, while remaining easily playable, on the DraftKings slate but they come up as negatively leveraged on FanDuel. When exploring individual ownership, however, it becomes clear that the team can still be stacked, given low popularity marks on several key hitters and a concentration of ownership around a few others. The Padres have been an overrated offense throughout the season, but in a game against a pitcher who peaked in 2006, they seem worth the effort. Kazmir is a nice story, working his way back to the majors after not having pitched at that level since 2016. Given the depleted Giants pitching staff, it is reasonable to expect that they want to see five innings from Kazmir today. They will be lucky to get two. In his early-season outings, Kazmir yielded a 14.3% barrel rate and a gargantuan 57.1% hard-hit percentage with an average exit velocity of 95.5 mph.

Fernando Tatis Jr. has multi-position eligibility on both sites and comes in as the most popular and most expensive Padres bat. He has 56.4% hard-hit percentage and 21.8% barrel rate that led to a .330 ISO with 39 home runs in 503 plate appearances this season and has major upside in this matchup.

Jake Cronenworth creates an immediate popularity dip in the two spot in the Padres lineup. With shortstop eligibility on DraftKings and first base positioning on FanDuel, Cronenworth is a different player from site to site. He provides salary relief at $3,600 on DraftKings and $3,100 across town, cheap pricing for a hitter with 20 home runs and a .191 ISO over 600 plate appearances. Cronenworth is slashing .270/.346/.461 and has created runs 19% better than average this season.

Manny Machado is a $5,700 option who will be owned at less than 2% on DraftKings; he costs $3,700 and cracks double-digit popularity on FanDuel. Machado is slashing .281/.347/.493 and has a .213 ISO while creating runs 25% better than average. He is a spectacular hitter who strikes out just 16.2% of the time while making hard contact 51.9% and barreling the ball at a 13.5% clip. Machado is too cheap for his talent on one site, under-owned on the other.

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Adam Frazier has made 599 plate appearances this season and is slashing a robust .307/.370/.407 while creating runs 14% better than average. He is miscast as a cleanup hitter, however, lacking the true power that the position demands. Frazier has just a .100 ISO and four home runs this season, though he strikes out at just an 11% rate and keeps the ball in play frequently. He has a lowly 25.5% hard-hit rate and a 0.8% barrel rate. He can be used as a correlation play but not a major source of individual point scoring.

Tommy Pham has 15 home runs and stolen 14 bases in his up and down 535 plate appearances this season. Pham has created runs 5% better than average while slashing .234/.344/.391 with a .157 ISO. He strikes out at a 22.8% clip but leads the team with a 13.8% walk rate and has a strong 10.1% barrel rate with a 46.9% hard-hit percentage for the season. Pham is a solid source of MLB DFS point-scoring upside who will barely be owned on DraftKings. He is more popular for a low $2,700 on the FanDuel slate.

Wil Myers has home run upside and will be owned at less than 10% on FanDuel, less than 2% on DraftKings. He has 17 home runs in 469 plate appearances this season, coming in with a .184 ISO and a WRC+ that sits 12% ahead of the curve. He adds eight stolen bases to the total, giving him a bit of additional upside, though he strikes out at a 27.7% clip. Myers has a .191 ISO in the split this year with a .182 mark against same-handed pitchers. There is potential value and leverage in the bat tonight.

Austin Nola is slashing .272/.340/.375 with two home runs and a .104 ISO in 194 plate appearances this season. He is fine as a $3,100 option where the position is required and comes at a discount of $2,200 on FanDuel. Nola is not a hitter to go out of one’s way for, but he is not inept at the plate.

Trent Grisham is slashing .237/.327/.403 with 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 483 plate appearances this season, continuing to frustrate with flashes of significant talent while not wholly delivering. Grisham has a lowly 5.1% barrel rate and just a 36.3% hard-hit percentage on the season. As a potential wrap-around play that can threaten at the plate and on the bases, it makes sense to include Grisham in Padres’ stacks, particularly when trying to offset ownership.

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HR Call: Wil Myers — San Diego Padres

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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