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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/8/21

Terry McBride



Wednesday brings one of the more fascinating MLB DFS pitching slates of the season. With a few touch matchups and odd situational wrinkles, there are no truly safe pitchers available, making this an ideal slate for mass multi-entry GPP play. Getting to a diverse set of lineup combinations between several high-end stacks while spreading out pitching shares and getting away from the ludicrously high marks on a few name-brand options is the approach. Targeting some of the highly owned pitchers with bats is a viable leverage play on this slate as well. The Top Stacks Tool should be a great way to navigate through the over-owned options to uncover the best MLB DFS stacks today.

Daily Fantasy 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

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 12.84

Baltimore Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle — 10.48

Boston Red Sox: Hunter Renfroe — 9.54

Chicago Cubs: Patrick Wisdom — 12.45

Chicago White Sox: Luis Robert — 8.37

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos — 10.17

Kansas City Royals: Adalberto Mondesi — 6.83

Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell — 5.39

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy — 10.73

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 6.84

New York Yankees: Anthony Rizzo — 10.59

Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson — 10.94

Philadelphia Phillies: Odubel Herrera — 4.31

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers — 4.75

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 7.28

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows — 5.36

Toronto Blue Jays: Bo Bichette — 10.44

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 17.26

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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 lineup picks today DraftKings FanDuel fantasy baseball rankings optimal lineup optimizer free expert yahoo cbs espn home run predictions top stacks advice tips cheat sheet strategy blue jays braves yankees cubs reds white sox MLB las vegas betting lines odds picks 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

Wednesday features an interesting pitching slate that sees the highest-priced pitcher on DraftKings saddled with a potentially severe pitch count limitation and the highest-priced option on the FanDuel slate facing one of the best lineups in baseball. Both Freddy Peralta and Adam Wainwright will have their work cut out for them to deliver value for their $10,200 and $10,000 respective price tags. Wainwright is a far more compelling option on DraftKings, where he costs just $8,100. Yu Darvish stands as one of the top options on the slate on track record and talent, but he has struggled with earned runs in recent outings and is priced down and wildly popular. Vladimir Gutierrez comes up interesting for a minor investment and a great matchup against the lousy Cubs, and Mike Minor draws the Orioles, though that team is underrated against lefties. Frankie Montas will be challenged by a loaded White Sox lineup and he is drawing negative leverage early in the day, while Shane McClanahan is at least a strong positive leverage play, despite a significant opponent in the Red Sox. The field is flocking to name recognition spots, which creates opportunities on the Top Pitchers Tool for those willing to embrace risk. It also creates gigantic ownership bubbles that can potentially be targeted with bats, rostering Angels against Darvish’s massive popularity is not an overly crazy play on this slate.

The San Diego righty will be owned by a whopping 62% of the DraftKings field and 45% of the FanDuel slate. This is simply too much attention for any one player on a nine-game slate, regardless of his talent. Darvish is a very good pitcher, make no mistake, but the untenable popularity combined with a recent run that has seen him post just one upside strikeout performance, a dazzling 12-strikeout outing against the Diamondbacks, makes him a difficult proposition in this spot. He has a 6.94 ERA over 35 innings in the second half per FanGraphs splits, though he comes in with a clean 3.41 xFIP in that same sample that indicates significant bad luck and happenstance. Darvish comes in with a 29.2% strikeout rate over 140 innings in his 25 starts. He has a 3.67 xFIP and a 1.07 WHIP, he induces a 12.6% swinging-strike rate and has compiled a 30.5% CSW. He is good at limiting quality contact as well, he has allowed just a 7.4% barrel rate with a 34.1% hard-hit percentage, and he keeps free passes down with just a 5.6% walk rate. Darvish is not an overly targetable pitcher on talent, ignoring the run-scoring in recent games, but the massive popularity leads to a natural undercut spot in GPP play. Getting below the field while still rostering Darvish shares and spreading the balance to the wide mid-range on this slate is a strong approach to this spot. Rostering Angels bats against more than half of the field is a consideration as well. Los Angeles’ active roster is around league average offensively, coming in with a .169 collective ISO and a 3.51% home run rate while creating runs 1% ahead of the curve by collective WRC+ against righties. The Angels’ 25.1% strikeout rate in the split is the fifth-worst mark in baseball, however. The major flaw in this plan is that the Angels are extremely likely to have superstar Shohei Ohtani available only as a pinch hitter while playing in a National League park. Ohtani can play the outfield, but the Angels are justifiably treating him carefully.

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Montas is facing a White Sox team that has a .164 ISO and a 3.53% home run rate against righties that are both around the middle of the league. The Chicago active roster strikes out at a 23% rate that is 10th best in baseball and they create runs 9% better than average in the split. This is not an easy spot for Montas by any means. He has had a strong year on the mound, he comes in with a 26.7% strikeout rate over 156.2 innings in 27 starts this season. Montas has a 3.64 xFIP and a 1.20 WHIP, he walks 6.9% of hitters and induces a terrific 13.8% swinging-strike rate, though he has just a 29.3% CSW. He profiles very well in the Top Pitchers Tool today, he ranks as the second-highest option by the probability of being the top scorer, but he is pulling significant ownership that pushes him deep into negative leverage territory on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Concerns linger around Montas’ contact profile as well, for all his sharpness with inducing whiffs, Montas allows heavy quality contact when hitters connect. He comes in with a 9.1% barrel rate and a 43.2% hard-hit percentage at a 13-degree average launch angle. Against a team that has a projected starting lineup with four hitters carrying barrel rates above 10% and six hitters above a 40% hard-hit percentage, Montas could see trouble with well-struck baseballs. He will benefit from a start in his pitcher-friendly home park, but Montas is not an entirely safe option against this team, particularly given the extreme ownership situation. This is another spot where rostering the opposing bats in conjunction with an undercut seems to make sense for GPP play.

Under normal circumstances, Peralta would make for an easy go-to, given the ridiculous quality he has displayed through the season. Peralta comes in with a fantastic 34% strikeout rate over 123.1 innings. He has a 3.69 xFIP and walks too many at 10.7% but he has been excellent at limiting hits and still has a 0.96 WHIP despite the free passes. Peralta allows only a 5.3% barrel rate and 31.7% hard-hit, he is very talented. Despite this, Peralta is an extremely risky play this evening. He recently landed on the injured list with shoulder pain and did nothing to increase confidence when he threw only two innings in his first game back after a two-week layoff last week. The Brewers do not need Peralta to pitch deep into this game and they were on record about wanting to limit his innings late in the season even before the injury. Peralta costs $9,400 on FanDuel and $10,200 on DraftKings, but the field will be there in small shares. This is not a spot to target opposing bats however, Peralta is likely to be excellent during the time he pitches, and he will hand the game off to an excellent Brewers bullpen.

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McClanahan is a talented young lefty who has thrown 105.1 innings in 21 starts this season. Despite not having been featured in this space before now, McClanahan has a sharp 28% strikeout rate with a 3.18 xFIP and a fantastic 15.3% swinging-strike rate. He puts together an excellent 31.9% CSW for the season but walks a few too many at 7.4% and allows far too many barrels at 9.8%. With a 44.4% hard-hit rate and 91.2 mph average exit velocity, McClanahan can be targetable for extra-base power, though he manages to keep the ball down somewhat with just an 8.7-degree average launch angle allowed. He projects well on the Top Pitchers Tool and he is coming in as one of the most positively leveraged plays on a slate that has no safe option. Getting to starters like this, even against a terrific Red Sox offense, in leverage situations like this on an unsure slate is the way to win MLB DFS tournaments. McClanahan draws a Boston active roster that is sixth best in the game at limiting strikeouts against southpaws, coming in with a 21.3% rate. The active roster has a .159 ISO and 3.36 home run rate in the split but still manages to create runs 4% better than average. McClanahan will be challenged in this spot, and he is not priced down for the matchup, but with only 1% of the field on him on both DraftKings and FanDuel, it makes sense to get beyond the field on the play in tournaments.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals have been a major target with pitchers in the weeks following the team’s dismantling at the trade deadline and they field a lineup that is largely comprised of “Quad-A” players who surround a lone superstar and one or two MLB talents. As can be seen in the power index above, however, the Nationals profile well for home run upside and power in their matchup against Atlanta’s Touki Toussaint. He has a 22.1% strikeout rate over 43 innings in his eighth major league starts this season. He has walked hitters at an 8.3% clip that is too high for sustained success while pitching to a 4.35 xFIP and a 1.21 WHIP. Toussaint allows an 8.3% barrel rate and a gargantuan 49.6% hard-hit rate on the season, coming with a 92.2 mph average exit velocity on a 12-degree average launch angle. This is a talented young pitcher who has not found his footing. The Nationals stack is primarily about Juan Soto and Josh Bell, by far the team’s two best hitters. Leadoff man Lane Thomas has been moderately capable, pulling in a .234/.338/.371 triple-slash with three home runs and three stolen bases over 145 plate appearances, but he creates runs 6% below average by WRC+ so far. Alcides Escobar is a reasonable correlation play with a respectable MLB-level hit tool, while Yadiel Hernandez comes in at .279/.336/.447 with a .168 ISO and creates runs 7% ahead of the curve over 217 plate appearances. Keibert Ruiz is unproven over 28 plate appearances and shortstop Carter Kieboom has yet to deliver on his anticipated promise, though he is now at six home runs with a .155 ISO and a 99 WRC+ over 164 opportunities. The lineup rounds out with Luis Garcia whose most notable trait this season has been having the same name as a talented Astros starter and causing naming issues in spreadsheets around the MLB DFS world. The Nationals are a low-owned play on the stacks board, they are not one of the most likely options to succeed, but also not at the bottom of the list, putting them in play with this much of a power indicator. It is easy to get over the field on these bats without going haywire across 150 lineups.

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Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are in Yankee Stadium looking to put on a power display against young right-hander Luis Gil. He has a 28.1% strikeout rate and a 4.69 xFIP over 15.2 innings in his three outings at the major league level so far. Gil has thrown an additional 46.1 innings in Triple-A this season, pitching to a 4.66 ERA and a 4.54 xFIP that seem far more realistic. He had a 2.64 ERA and a 3.36 xFIP over 30.2 innings in Double-A earlier in the year. The Blue Jays should be able to exploit this pitcher, he has largely gotten away with mediocrity so far, coming in with a 10.9% walk rate. Gil has been able to work around the free passes by limiting barrels to just 2.6% and allowing just a 30.8% hard-hit rate, but the Blue Jays pulverize baseballs with regularity. Toronto will be lower owned on the FanDuel slate, where they are a positive leverage stack. On DraftKings, they may be better deployed as one-offs or by combining several of the lower-owned hitters into secondary three-man stacks. Go-to options include George Springer, Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez. The lineup features a strong back-end as well, Lourdes Gurriel, Corey Dickerson, Kevin Smith, and either Blue Jays catcher are in play, as would be Randal Grichuk and most other options this team could deploy.

Tampa Bay Rays

A night after exploding for upside against Eduardo Rodriguez, the Rays are back at it, trending toward the top of the board for their probability of success while drawing positive leverage on both sites. Tampa Bay will be facing Nathan Eovaldi, a quality righty who has a 24.9% strikeout rate over 156.2 innings this season. He has been sharp, with just a 4.3% walk rate, a 35.5% hard-hit percentage, 6.1% barrel rate and 12.2% swinging-strike rate on the season. The Rays are not profiling as one of the top options in the home run model, and the run creation opportunities seem somewhat limited by Eovaldi’s ability to keep runners off the bases and limit hard contact when men are on. Still, with the overall talent and power present in the Tampa lineup, they can be rostered in this situation when the field is looking in other directions. Clear-cut Rays options include Brandon Lowe, Nelson Cruz, Wander Franco, and Austin Meadows. Depending on the final lineup, additional options should include Mike Zunino, Joey Wendle, Kevin Kiermaier, Josh Lowe and Ji-man Choi.

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Oakland Athletics

Backing up Montas, the Athletics will be at home in a pitcher’s park facing the former personification of production suppression that is Dallas Keuchel. For most of his career, Keuchel has always been excellent at keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark despite a lack of strikeout acumen. He is a changed pitcher this season, however, struggling through 139.2 innings that have seen him post a 4.60 xFIP and a 1.45 WHIP. Keuchel induces a mere 8.6% swinging-strike rate and has a lowly 26% CSW. Worst of all, he has allowed a 9.3% barrel rate and a 40.6% hard-hit percentage, though he does still limit launch angle to just 4.9 degrees on average. With the total lack of strikeout ability, the inflated walks and the contact-based approach yielding too much power, Keuchel is now a target for some home run upside and major run creation potential.

Josh Harrison provides a quality leadoff bat for the Athletics projected lineup. He is slashing .294/.360/.434 with a .140 ISO while creating runs 17% better than average this season. He has hit eight home runs and stolen nine bases in his 468 plate appearances but is more of a correlation play who gets on ahead of the better bats in the lineup behind him. Harrison has a 32.1% hard-hit percentage and just a 4.4% barrel rate, but he has a 12.8% strikeout rate that is seventh best in baseball among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances.

Starling Marte comes in slashing a terrific .316/.393/.456 with 10 home runs and 43 stolen bases while creating runs 36% better than average. The stolen base tally leads baseball by four despite coming in just 429 plate appearances (second is Whit Merrifield with 39 steals in 610 plate appearances), putting Marte in front of the power in this lineup is an unfair run creation advantage for this team. At just a 1% ownership projection across the industry, Marte is one of the best plays on the board today.

Matt Olson carries the same ownership projection as the hitter before him. He is one of the best hitters in baseball this season. He is slashing .273/.370/.541 with 32 home runs and a .268 ISO while creating runs 48% better than average by WRC+. Olson has a 48.7% hard-hit rate and a 13.2% barrel rate on the season and he strikes out just 16.3% of the time, separating him from most of the power hitters in the league who are swing-and-miss happy. Olson has a sharp 12.4% walk rate and is an excellent stacking option at $5,400 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel.

Matt Chapman is slashing .222/.321/.417 with a .194 ISO and is creating runs 7% better than average. He has come on at the plate over the second half of the season, posting a .265 ISO and creating runs 24% better than average over his most recent 181 plate appearances, compared to 367 plate appearances that saw just a .160 ISO and 99 WRC+ from the former MVP candidate. Chapman has a 41.6% hard-hit rate and a 13.5% barrel rate this season, but he strikes out too much at 31.6%. Overall, this is an excellent undervalued bat to slot into Oakland stacks.

Mark Canha strikes out 20.2% of the time but walks at a 12.5% clip and creates runs 24% ahead of league average by WRC+. He is slashing .238/.365/.412 with a .174 ISO and 16 home runs with 12 stolen bases this season. Canha hit 26 home runs in 497 plate appearances in 2019, pulling in a .244 ISO for the season, but he is still a very effective player given the on-base skills and run creation. He correlates well with the hitters around him in Oakland stacks and is not dispossessed of his individual upside.

Catcher Yan Gomes has a .307/.304/.564 triple-slash with a .257 ISO and 128 WRC+ against lefties. Six of his 12 home runs have come in the split, despite seeing twice as many plate appearances against righties this year. For his career, Gomes has a 4.14% home run rate against lefties and just a 3.33% mark against same-handed pitching. He will be owned at under 5% across the industry even where catchers are required.

Khris Davis famously had exactly a .247 batting average for four straight seasons from 2015-2018, hitting 160 home runs over the same span with three seasons over 40. Davis has totaled just 27 home runs in 593 plate appearances since then. He struggled through 533 opportunities in 2019, hitting 23 of those 27 home runs and slashing .220/.293/.387 with a .166 ISO and a 27.4% strikeout rate. Last season he saw 99 chances with Oakland before being dispatched. He hit two home runs, struck out 26.3% of the time, and had a measly .129 ISO while slashing .200/.303/.329. Davis began this year with Texas but has seen just 71 plate appearances. He has hit two home runs and has a 29.6% strikeout rate while slashing .180/.268/.361, though his .180 ISO and 42.9% hard-hit rate with a 9.5% barrel rate are somewhat encouraging. Davis is walking at an 11.3% clip that helps him stay afloat in the small sample. This is a low-end play if he is in the lineup, but he has some sneaky upside.

Chad Pinder is leading the Athletics with a 51.9% hard-hit rate over his first 173 plate appearances this season. That number will likely come down over a larger sample, but he has a terrific 14.8% barrel rate as well. He is slashing just .217/.283/.344 and has created runs 23% worse than average, however. Pinder has three home runs and a .127 ISO despite those contact metrics, and he strikes out at a 28.9% clip while walking just 7.5% of the time. He is more of a price offset who can help with positioning, but he has some upside for Oakland stacks.

Elvis Andrus has an atrocious .227/.272/.303, a .076 ISO, three home runs and just 12 stolen bases on the season. He has just a 34% hard-hit rate and a 2.4% barrel rate this season and does not get on base frequently enough to be a correlation play or a true threat with his speed.

HR Call: Josh Bell — 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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