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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/14/21

Terry McBride



MLB DFS lineup picks today DraftKings FanDuel optimal lineup optimizer tournament strategy groups stacks home run predictions best bets free expert rankings yahoo espn cbs yankees astros dodgers white sox phillies padres blue jays lines odds best bets

With 12 games on the board and both major sites offering significant prize pools in GPPs, Tuesday is probably the best MLB DFS slate we will see this week. The slate features one premium ace in a standout matchup and a broad spectrum of mid-range options. A number of highly targetable starters will also be toeing the rubber for their teams tonight, there are gaudy numbers in the power index, and several games should explode for MLB DFS point-scoring upside. Identifying the low-owned spots with that potential upside is the key factor in creating lineups for tournament play, utilizing the Top Stacks Tool to find the highest probability situations that are also providing positive leverage is the best approach to a large slate of this nature. Utilizing all of those tools, let’s get into the best MLB DFS lineups today on 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 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: Carson Kelly — 3.09

Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall — 9.56

Baltimore Orioles: D.J. Stewart — 7.29

Boston Red Sox: Hunter Renfroe — 9.48

Chicago Cubs: Frank Schwindel — 6.41

Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 10.35

Colorado Rockies: Sam Hilliard — 10.63

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve — 13.59

Kansas City Royals: Andrew Benintendi — 5.79

Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani — 14.53

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager — 10.34

Miami Marlins: Lewin Diaz — 10.16

New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 19.78

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 18.55

Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson — 12.89

Philadelphia Phillies: Odubel Herrera — 9.03

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 11.36

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt — 9.70

Seattle Mariners: Luis Torrens — 3.26

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 6.03

Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena — 6.93

Texas Rangers: Leody Taveras — 4.17

Toronto Blue Jays: Jake Lamb — 6.27

Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman — 11.70

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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.

MLB DFS lineup picks today DraftKings FanDuel optimal lineup optimizer tournament strategy groups stacks home run predictions best bets free expert rankings yahoo espn cbs yankees astros dodgers white sox phillies padres blue jays lines odds best bets

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

Gerrit Cole is twice as likely to post a slate-leading pitching score as any other starter taking the mound tonight. He is facing an Orioles offense that is average at best and he is pulling significant MLB DFS point projections. Lucas Giolito is one of the more likely candidates on overall talent and name recognition, but he is making his first start back from the injured list and has not pitched in September. With Giolito likely limited in his start against the Angels, there is a true plateau of mid-range quality on today’s pitching board. If Cole does not come through, the slate is wide open. Two starters from the group stand out for their strikeout acumen, Frankie Montas and Nathan Eovaldi both generate strikeouts at a better clip than the rest of the talent at their level, and they are in reasonable matchups against the Royals and Mariners, respectively. Beyond that pair, intriguing and fairly priced options across the industry include a number of typically low-strikeout options such as Kyle Gibson in a great spot against the Cubs, Marcus Stroman facing the stingy Cardinals, Zack Greinke taking on the Rangers. Marlins starter Jesus Luzardo has been one of the premium pitching prospects in the game throughout his development. Not all of that talent is fully polished, and it has been slow to translate at the Major League level this season, but Luzardo is facing a low-end Nationals lineup that gives him price-based upside that is drawing a fair amount of popularity on both sites; Luzardo will be owned at a rate that is essentially double his probability of being a top option on both sites.

Cole is coming up as a slightly negatively leveraged play on both sites according to the Top Pitchers Tool but his probability of being a top-scoring option cannot be ignored. His overall ownership is not so high as to be prohibitive to those inclined to take on a massive share of him across a full set of lineups, but it seems like a better tournament play to shoot for a small undercut to the field and spread additional shares to the also-ran population of starters. For his part, Cole has been terrific this season. He has thrown 158.2 innings in 26 starts, pitching to a 2.81 xFIP and a 0.99 WHIP while striking out 34.7% of opposing hitters and walking just 5.4%. He induces swing-and-miss at a 14.9% pace while compiling a 32.5% CSW% that is second to only Corbin Burnes among qualified pitchers this season. Cole always comes with the minor warning about occasional home runs, as well as the refrain that there are rarely men on base when he yields a long ball. Cole has allowed a 9.4% barrel rate and 38.2% hard-hit percentage with a 12.7-degree average launch angle on the year, resulting in a 1.08 HR/9 that is actually his best mark since a 0.85 in 2018. The opposing Orioles have one of baseball’s worst records, but their offense has not been terrible this season. The team’s active roster is actually quite good against lefties, but against righties, they fall more toward the league average. The team has a .172 ISO and a 3.81% home run rate in the split while striking out 24.7% of the time and creating runs four percent behind the curve. Cole has a strong chance of running off and hiding with his MLB DFS score tonight.

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Montas looks like a different play from site to site. On DraftKings he is coming up as a strong positive leverage play from near the top of the board, while on the blue site he is falling into negative leverage territory for a discounted salary. Montas is expensive on the two-pitcher site, which is suppressing his popularity into the single-digit range and creating a major opportunity for GPP play. He has a 26.7% rate over 163.2 innings in 28 starts this year and induces a 13.8% swinging-strike rate with a 29.3% CSW%. Montas  walks 6.9% of hitters and allows a 9.0% barrel rate with a 43% hard-hit percentage this season, so there is minor concern about the contact and run creation opportunity profile, but he has been sharp throughout the season. Montas has a 3.57 ERA and a 3.63 xFIP this season, and he draws a low-run creation offense in the Royals. Kansas City is above average at avoiding strikeouts against right-handed pitching this season, they rank fifth best with a 21.8% strikeout rate in the split. Outside of that quality, the lineup has been weak overall. The active roster has just a .147 collective ISO and a 3.15% home run rate while creating runs 13% worse than average by WRC+ against righties this year. Montas is under-owned and should be a major consideration on the DraftKings slate.

Eovaldi is a positively leveraged play on FanDuel while he falls into slightly negative range on the DraftKings slate. Eovaldi is another of the slate’s leading strikeout options at a 25.2% rate coming into the evening. He has thrown 163.2 innings in 28 starts this season, pitching to a solid 3.51 xFIP and, most impressively, limiting walks to just 4.4%. Eovaldi has an xERA of 3.43 to his actual 3.57 mark. He has been solid at limiting quality contact as well this season, allowing just a 6.4% barrel rate and a 35.5% hard-hit percentage with 88 mph average exit velocity. Eovaldi’s .368 xSLG is a 62nd percentile mark in the league, good but not great. On this slate, good should be more than enough as an SP2 and could play well in a primary starter role if Cole falters. Eovaldi will benefit from facing a Mariners team that has a 25.4% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season, the third worst in baseball. The team’s active roster creates runs nine percent worse than average against righties and has a .158 collective ISO with a 3.78% home run rate, flashing slightly above-average power to go with their lousy sequential hitting and heavy swing-and-miss.

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Kyle Gibson is not a pitcher we typically look to in this space. His primary quality as a pitcher is somewhat reliable depth and ability to limit major damage in most cases. Gibson comes into the night with a lowly 18.9% strikeout rate and an inflated 8.9% walk rate on the season. He has a 4.33 xFIP and a 1.24 WHIP and induces just a 9.9% swinging-strike rate with a 26.8% CSW%. He limits his opponent’s barrel rate to a four percent clip, a 94th percentile mark and has allowed just a 7.4-degree average launch angle, but he yields a 38.3% hard-hit rate and 88.5 mph average exit velocity that are not standout marks in limiting opposing power. Gibson has a 3.38 ERA on the season with a 3.80 xERA, as well as a .350 xSLG that sits in the 72nd percentile. He has limited opponents to 12 home runs over 662 plate appearances this season, a sparkling 1.81% home run rate that translates to a 0.68 HR/9. Gibson is facing a Cubs active roster that has a 3.59% home run rate and a .157 ISO against righties this season, both ranking near the middle of the league. They create runs 14% worse than average in the split and have a league-worst 26.3% strikeout rate against right-handed pitchers this season. Even Gibson may find a few bonus strikeouts against this lineup. For the low price of $8,100 on DraftKings and $8,600 on FanDuel, Gibson will be excessively popular. The Top Pitchers Tool indicates that he will be owned at a rate nearly triple his probability of posting a required MLB DFS score, which puts a significant amount of tarnish on an otherwise shiny play.

For a few dollars more, gamers can potentially look to Stroman for similar quality but lower strikeout upside. He faces a Cardinals active roster that has just a 22.2% strikeout rate in the split this season. They fall below average in other offensive metrics, however, coming up with just a .151 ISO and a 3.30% home run rate while creating runs nine percent behind the WRC+ curve. Stroman has a 3.58 xFIP and a 1.13 WHIP over 163 innings in 30 starts. His baseball card sports a sparkling 2.87 ERA that belies some underlying quality concerns; Stroman has a 4.17 xERA and a .385 xSLG (41st percentile) on the season, but a 3.58 xFIP. Some of the expected marks come from an inflated 42% hard-hit rate, but Stroman comes in at a 6.3% mark while yielding just a 6.5-degree average launch angle. Stroman is not a major source of MLB DFS upside, and this is more a safe spot than it is a point-creating opportunity, but he stands a reasonably good chance of posting a slate-relevant score if others slip even to a minor degree. Stroman is positively leveraged with single-digit popularity on the DraftKings slate and just slightly into a negative position with similar ownership on FanDuel.

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New York Yankees

As can be seen in both the power index above and in Awesemo’s Top Stacks rankings, the Yankees have massive potential for both overall MLB DFS point-scoring and home run power tonight. Unfortunately, the team will be at the extreme end of Ownership Projections. New York is in the hitter-friendly park in Baltimore facing a lefty starter whose stat-line may as well just read ACME for all its explosive potential. Alex Wells has yielded a 53% hard-hit rate in his 22.2 innings in the Majors this season. He has allowed an 8.4% barrel rate with 91.7 mph average exit velocity at an 18.3-degree average launch angle so far, ideal home run marks. Wells has a 5.84 xFIP and a 1.90 WHIP and induces just a 7.3% swinging-strike rate with a 25.5% CSW%. All of the Yankees hitters are projected for significant ownership across the industry, they will be massively over-exposed on this slate. Of the go-to bats, only Anthony Rizzo stands out as an interesting play. He is projected for less than 10% popularity on both sites, despite a friendly $4,500 price on DraftKings and a $3,800 mark on FanDuel. Rizzo has a career .255/.354/.431 triple-slash with a .176 ISO in same-handed matchups. He has created runs 16% better than average by WRC+ in the split for his career.

Oakland Athletics

The Athletics are in a good spot, facing Jackson Kowar in Kansas City. He has thrown just 17 innings in four starts this season and has a limited 18.3% strikeout rate in the small sample. Kowar has yielded a 53.7% hard-hit rate and a 9.3% barrel rate with 92.5 mph average exit velocity on a 13.3-degree trajectory. He has a 5.89 xFIP and a 1.88 WHIP and has walked hitters at a 13.4% clip over his limited innings so far. In 80.2 innings at Triple-A this season, Kowar had a 3.46 ERA and a 3.28 xFIP with a stellar 34% strikeout rate, but still walked 10.1% of hitters. Kowar is expected to develop into a solid mid-rotation piece, but he is not there yet, throwing Oakland bats at this pitcher where they are at positive leverage on DraftKings is advisable. Go-to Athletics bats include Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Mark Canha. Additional quality can be found in various configurations of the lineup, with bats including Jed Lowrie, Sean Murphy and Tony Kemp in the currently projected batting order.

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Atlanta Braves

The Braves land as one of the most highly ranked teams drawing positive leverage across both sites. They will be facing Rockies right-handed starter Jon Gray, who is at best a league-average pitcher. Gray induces an 11.1% swinging-strike rate but has a limited 28.2% CSW%. He allows just a 5.4% barrel rate and a 37.4% hard-hit percentage this season, but he is relatively targetable for sequential hitting and run creation. With the bonus of Atlanta’s massive 4.87% home run rate in the split – a league-leading mark against either hand – there is every reason to expect a solid score from Braves bats tonight.

Second baseman Ozzie Albies somehow costs just $4,800 on DraftKings, which lands him as the most popular Braves hitter but still under 10% projected ownership. Albies is a star who is more correctly priced across town where he comes in as a $4,200 option at half the popularity. He is slashing .256/.313/.491 with a terrific .235 ISO while creating runs 10% better than average on the season. He has hit 28 home runs and stolen 17 bases, one of the better power and speed combinations in all of baseball. Albies has just an 18.6% strikeout rate on the season.

Jorge Soler found his power in the second half, particularly on arrival in Atlanta around the trade deadline. Soler is up to a .203 ISO and has 23 home runs, 16 of which have come since July 1. He has a 45.8% hard-hit rate and a 12.2% barrel rate on the season and he is slashing .220/.313/.423 while creating runs two percent behind the average overall. Soler strikes out at an aggressive 24.4% clip but makes up for it with the power and his 11% walk rate.

Freddie Freeman needs little introduction to anyone who has paid attention to baseball over the last 11 years. Freeman is having another standard-issue superstar season. He has hit 30 home runs in 618 plate appearances and is slashing .295/.390/.509 with a .214 ISO while creating runs 36% better than average. Freeman strikes out merely 15.4% of the time and walks in 12.6% of his plate appearances. He adds a 46.2% hard-hit rate and an 11.4% barrel rate that show where the quality stat-line comes from. Freeman is under-owned across the industry .

Austin Rileys breakout season rolls on. He has hit 29 home runs and has an excellent .224 ISO while creating runs 35% better than average. Riley strikes out more than Freeman, coming in with a 24.1% rate and he walks less at 8.9% but his developing bat still produces a .296/.369/.520 triple-slash and he makes 43.2% hard contact while barreling the ball 12.6% of the time. Riley joins Freeman as an underpriced option on FanDuel and he is also under-owned on both sites.

Adam Duvall leads the powerful team with 34 home runs, though some came while with a division rival earlier in the season. Duvall is slashing .228/.285/.499 but has a .271 ISO with a 43.5% hard-hit rate and a 15% barrel rate. He has titanic power but falls short of being a three-true-outcomes hitter, given his pedestrian 7.1% walk rate and lowly on-base percentage this season. Duvall is more of an all-or-nothing play than many of his teammates, though he makes strong contact frequently enough to still post a WRC+ that is eight percent better than average, despite the lowly on-base and hit tools.

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud has made 170 plate appearances and has hit six home runs while slashing .234/.300/.409 and creating runs 11% behind the curve. He hit 16 home runs in fewer than 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2019 and had an excellent 184 plate appearance season in 2020. In the truncated season last year, d’Arnaud hit nine home runs and had a .212 ISO while slashing .321/.386/.533. He can flash that level of quality from time to time and makes a solid play, one that improves where catchers are required.

Dansby Swanson is another of our favorite underrated players in this space, which has been discussed each time the Braves have been featured this season. He costs just $4,400 on DraftKings and a ridiculous $2,900 on FanDuel. Swanson deserves better from the MLB DFS industry. He has hit 26 home runs in 583 plate appearances and has a .212 ISO while creating runs three percent better than average this season. He has a 42.9% hard-hit rate and an 11.5% barrel rate both of which rank in the top-10 among qualified shortstops this season. Swanson’s ISO ranks sixth at the position and his home run total places him in a third-place tie with Eugenio Suarez. This is an excellent source of MLB DFS production who will be in the low single digits in popularity while at a discounted price, take advantage.

Joc Pederson rounds out the projected lineup, adding a hitter with “just” 16 home runs in 454 opportunities to the back end of the lineup. Pederson has a .173 ISO on the season and is slashing .233/.306/.406 while creating runs eight percent below average this year, but he still has an excellent 46.6% hard-hit rate that leads the team. He has seen more same-handed plate appearances this season, dragging some of his overall power marks down as he has focused on improving his hit tool in the split. Against righties, Pederson has a .192 ISO and 14 of his 16 home runs (a 4.06% home run rate), making him an interesting option with no popularity.

HR Call: Pete Alonso — New York Mets

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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