It’s Major League Baseball Opening Day and the MLB DFS gods are already toying with daily fantasy gamers. The bright-eyed hopes of fans of the Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, and Twins were all put on hold for at least a day, the two weather-related postponements drop the slate from nine to seven games, but there is still a great list of targets and a fun schedule of Opening Day games to kick off the MLB season in style. With most teams bringing their top starter to the mound to open the season, and the Mets also playing, there are plenty of quality options at a range of prices on the pitching board. A few soft spots on the mound are yielding some obvious go-to stacks and MLB DFS picks today on DraftKings and FanDuel, although the loss of some of the slate’s biggest bats to rain changes (check out the MLB DFS weather update below) the shape of where salary should be allocated on the offensive side of the game. As always, the primary approach is building lineup stacks with highly correlated premium bats. If we can do so at low ownership and positive leverage, that is the ideal target.
Utilizing the Top Stacks Tool and the Top Pitchers Tool to help with MLB DFS lineup picks is the best bet for creating a strong pool of entries. If you missed it, we have MLB DFS strategy recaps in video form with Greg and Alex and in our season previews for the National League and the American League. As always, this space will feature the power index, home run picks from each team, a recap of pitching and primary stacking options, a full feature lineup breakdown for a top team stack, and a primary home run pick. Last year’s primary home run picks succeeded at ~25%, the goal is a .300 season at least. This year we will also have a featured MLB DFS Weather section that will highlight any risky situations for weather delays or postponements.
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Top Home Run 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: Daulton Varsho — 8.13
Atlanta Braves: Matt Olson — 11.78
Chicago Cubs: Frank Schwindel — 2.89
Cincinnati Reds: Jonathan India — 4.18
Cleveland Guardians: Franmil Reyes — 13.27
Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 9.55
Kansas City Royals: Andrew Benintendi — 4.41
Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell — 4.33
Milwaukee Brewers: Hunter Renfroe — 11.76
New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 17.36
Pittsburgh Pirates: Dan Vogelbach — 7.38
San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 14.66
St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 15.89
Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 16.38
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 and the second is for the top six hitters in the projected lineup.
MLB DFS Weather Update: Postponements & Risk Assessment
Two games are already off the board. The Red Sox vs Yankees and Mariners vs Twins games were both wisely postponed by a day, with looming rain in New York and snow in the Twin Cities, but who could possibly have anticipated cold and snow in Minnesota this time of year when choosing to build an open-air stadium? The only other situation that currently appears worth monitoring is the Mets vs Nationals game in Washington, D.C. That game is scheduled for a 4:05 ET start, there is light rain on the radar in the area throughout the afternoon, but by that time of day the current chance of precipitation is below 50% and the threat tapers off from there after 5 pm. This game seems fairly safe, MLB DFS gamers should plan for it to play, possibly after a delayed start that would not impact pitchers or lineups. It seems unlikely that the game would start and then delay when there is a clear window an hour after game time.
MLB DFS Picks Today: Pitchers, Best Stacks & Low-Owned 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
In addition to the loss of several powerful potential stacking options, the Thursday MLB DFS slate lost a few of its top pitching selections in the postponements as well. The slate is tight around a few remaining aces and, given the teams on the schedule, there are some interesting mid-range options that seem out of place on an Opening Day slate. Getting to a more value-based pitching platform was unexpected but could provide significant value in building out premium hitting stacks. The newly minted Guardians will have ace Shane Bieber back on the hill for Cleveland’s game against Kansas City. Bieber is expected to be 100% healthy to start the season after missing significant time with ongoing shoulder issues last year. Yu Darvish will toe the rubber and look to start the season in dominant form for the Padres in what should be a premium matchup against the Diamondbacks’ middling lineup. FanDuel gamers will have the bonus of the inclusion of Corbin Burnes against a cakewalk of a Cubs lineup, but the 2:20 ET game is not on the DraftKings slate. Adam Wainwright and Max Fried round out the top-end of the pitching slate with inexpensive quality, while Tyler Mahle has major strikeout upside at a fair price but is facing a powerful Braves lineup. An inexpensive sneaky play could come in the form of Madison Bumgarner, who was featured in the National League season preview as a potential sleeper after a hot spring.
Anyone playing on FanDuel should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity to roster Corbin Burnes at $11,200 against this lowly Cubs lineup. Chicago is not bringing a ton of Major League talent to the plate this season; the lineup includes multiple players who had aggressively high strikeout rates last season and the Cubs seem primed to sell out for power again this year. The key hitters in the Cubs lineup averaged a 27% strikeout rate last season, with Patrick Wisdom accounting for a borderline unfathomable 40.8% rate over his 375 plate appearances. The Cubs’ current active roster had a collective 24.6% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching last season, the 27th-ranked team out of 30. The Cubs posted a 19th-ranked .165 ISO with a 92 WRC+ against righties last season, though they did manage a 13th-ranked 3.36% home run rate in the split. This should play directly to Burnes’ strengths, the right-hander had an electric 35.6% strikeout rate over 167 innings for the fantastic Milwaukee pitching staff last year. Burnes combined the stellar strikeout numbers with an excellent 5.2% walk rate, pitching to a 2.30 xFIP and a 0.94 WHIP for the season. He generated a 16.6% swinging-strike rate and a 33.8% CSW% while yielding a mere 3.1% barrel rate. It is very difficult to square up on this pitcher, he should give the swing-and-miss Cubs fits throughout a start that will see him chase both the win and quality start bonus on FanDuel. Burnes is a top option on the blue site for Thursday’s Opening Day MLB DFS slate.
Among the options that appear on both sites, one of the early leaders in projections and probability metrics is ageless Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals righty had his best season in several years in 2021, making it through 32 starts and 206.1 innings while pitching to a 3.87 xFIP and a 1.06 WHIP. Wainwright was one of the better options in baseball for depth and quality start bonuses, he delivered the bonus 17 times in his 33 starts, including the playoffs, for a 66.7% conversion rate, eighth best in baseball, and fourth among pitchers who made more than 20 starts. The righty has never been a dominant strikeout artist; at its peak, Wainwright’s strikeout rate never eclipsed 23.4%, so there is not much wear and tear on the 21% mark he posted last season, nor should there be much expectation of a decline unless the innings get to his oft-injured arm. He walked just 6.0% of opposing hitters last season, leading to the excellent on-base metrics, and he did a fair job in limiting quality contact, holding opposing hitters to a 6.2% barrel rate and a 35.1% hard-hit percentage. Wainwright will be taking on a Pirates lineup that is going to be frisky this season, particularly as an inexpensive stack for MLB DFS purposes in the right spots. This is not an endorsement of the Pittsburgh lineup against this starter however, this offense will take off when prospect Oneil Cruz arrives on the scene in a few weeks. Wainwright should be more than capable of handling his business and putting up a strong start against an active roster that was dead last in baseball in ISO and weighted-run creation last season with a .137 and an 85, respectively. That means that Pittsburgh’s collective offense 15% behind the curve in creating runs in the split last season, with unspeakably low power numbers. The active roster was 19th with a 23.6% strikeout rate, and they were second-to-last with a lowly 2.27% home run rate against righties, above only the Diamondbacks at the bottom of the league against righties last year. Wainwright will be justifiably popular on both sites, he is incorrectly priced against the field, and in this matchup, on both sites, he can be utilized as a cheap SP1 or a strong SP2 on DraftKings and he is an excellent pitching value on the single-pitcher FanDuel slate.
Yu Darvish takes the hill at a fair price on FanDuel and as the most expensive pitcher on the DraftKings board. Darvish will be facing a Diamondbacks team that was dead last in the league in home run rate against right-handed pitching at just 2.2% last season and 29th out of 30 teams with a .144 ISO in the split. Arizona had a 28th-ranked WRC+, sitting 14% below average for run creation against righties (the original cut of this sentence had a typo reading “fun creation,” Diamondbacks fans would likely agree with that sentiment as well). Arizona’s 23.8% team strikeout rate in the split was 21st overall, their best attribute on the team stats board for last year. This is not a good offense, and they did not do much to improve. Darvish, on the other hand, can be a terrific pitcher when he has his stuff working. The veteran righty threw 166.1 innings in 30 starts last season, dominating hitters with a 29.2% strikeout rate and a quality 6.5% walk rate. He allowed just 35.1% hard-hits and an 8.8% barrel rate to opposing batters, keeping the ball in the yard fairly effectively despite a 16.6-degree average launch angle against, Darvish allowed a 4.1% home run rate last season, with an even distribution of home runs to hitters of either handedness. Darvish was mostly strong through the season, though his strikeouts dropped slightly, and his walks went up somewhat in the season’s second half. Overall, the pitcher brings plenty of quality to an easy matchup against a bad lineup. Darvish had a 3.75 xFIP and a 1.09 WHIP with a 12.1% swinging-strike rate last year. He should have no trouble keeping Diamondbacks hitters on their heels, while racking up strikeouts and chasing the bonuses.
As matchups go, one could hope for an easier launching pad for a season than a road start against the mighty Braves lineup, but such is the lot in life for Reds righty Tyler Mahle, who is coming off of a breakout season in 2021. Mahle posted a 27.7% strikeout rate over 180 innings in 33 starts last season, pitching to a 3.74 xFIP with a 1.23 WHIP, he will need to cut down on the 8.4% walk rate if he is going to take another step this season. Overall, Mahle was a strong right arm for the Reds, he generated an 11.4% swinging-strike rate, but his 29.3% CSW% means he could do a little better generating called strikes working in the zone when he is not looking to fool hitters with his devastating splitter-slider combination. Mahle throws a heavy-spin fastball that generates a strong number of swings and misses on its own, he has the opportunity to reach a 30% strikeout rate if his development continues in his age-27 season. The matchup against Atlanta is good for strikeouts, Mahle should find that part of his game against an active roster that was 26th in baseball with a 24.3% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching last season. The concern comes in looking at the Braves’ power marks, the active roster’s 2021 ISO ranks second-best in baseball against righties at .210 and they have a league-leading 4.49% home run rate, blasting 193 total home runs, a whopping 37 more than second-place San Francisco against right-handers. Mahle yielded just a 3.16% home run rate overall last season, allowing just a 6.5% barrel rate and an excellent 33.9% hard-hit percentage, he is good at limiting the long ball, while this should be a challenging opponent for him, he has the tools to excel in the spot and the Braves will give him every opportunity to pile up the strikeout points. Mahle is a strong option across the industry on Thursday’s MLB DFS slate.
The Nationals are leading the way in the power metrics above largely on the backs of three hitters. All of Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Bell are grading out as strong home run options, with Soto and Cruz landing among the slate leaders. The trio should make for an excellent stack all season, with leadoff man Cesar Hernandez acting as an adequate bolt-on at second base for run-scoring correlation purposes. The Nationals are not going to be a good baseball team this season, but the top of their lineup will be stacked frequently, particularly when they come as inexpensively as they do as a unit on Opening Day. Soto is at his typically high price across the industry, he is already one of the league’s best hitters at just 22-years-old. Last season, Soto hit 29 home runs and delivered a .313/.465/.534 triple-slash, with the ridiculous on-base numbers bolstered by an amazing 22.2% walk rate. Soto struck out in just 14.2% of his plate appearances, dominating at the plate with a 52.4% hard-hit percentage. And now he has Nelson Cruz hitting behind him. At 41, Crus is on the other side of his career, but he brings a matching 52% hard-hit rate from last season, a year in which he still managed to destroy 32 home runs in 584 plate appearances while going .265/.334/.497 and creating runs 22% better than average. Bell hit 27 home runs of his own and also reached the hard-hit threshold in more than 50% of his batted ball events, turning in a 51.5% hard-hit rate for the season. After the three big names, the options thin out somewhat, Hernandez should see a return to a better on-base percentage at the expense of the career-high 21 home runs he hit last season, while switch-hitting catcher Keibert Ruiz will deliver mid-range quality where the position is required. Lane Thomas fills an outfield role and had a decent 45.7% hard-hit rate with a 7.3% barrel rate over his 264 plate appearances last season. Thomas turned that into seven home runs and a .177 ISO, he has a chance to improve with a full season of plate appearances in 2022 and makes for a cheap addition if a full stack is a must. The Nationals avoided Mets ace Max Scherzer on opening day, drawing Tylor Megill instead. Megill had a serviceable year as a rookie last season, turning in a 26.1% strikeout rate with a 3.92 xFIP over 89.2 innings, but he struggled with premium contact and yielded a 41.8% hard-hit rate and a 10% barrel rate. Combined with the average launch angle of 13.7 degrees, Megill could be in for a day of sweating deep fly balls.
St. Louis Cardinals
With righty J.T. Brubaker taking the mound for the opposing Pirates, the Cardinals stack should be in play for MLB DFS lineups on all sites on Thursday. Brubaker had a good season last year, he is not a tomato can on the mound, but he is also not an elite starter, and this is a dangerous lineup. Brubaker turned in a 24% strikeout rate over 124.1 innings, yielding a 38.7% hard-hit rate with an 8.8% barreled-ball percentage and a 12.6-degree average launch angle against. Opposing hitters generated an average exit velocity of 88.9 mph against the righty, who had a 4.00 xFIP and a 1.29 WHIP while generating a 12% swinging-strike rate. Brubaker is not strong enough in the zone, his CSW% sits at just 28.6% and he allows too many baserunners, though his 7.1% walk rate is more average than atrocious. The Cardinals active roster compiled the best strikeout rate in baseball against right-handed pitching last season at a collective 20.5%, they are excellent at limiting swing-and-miss overall. The team drooped to a 3.21% home run rate against righties, just the 18th-best in the league, and they had a lowly .161 ISO in the split, but the ability to put balls in play and the total raw number of home runs they hit make the stack viable for MLB DFS purposes. Despite their low rate, St. Louis’ active roster ended the year seventh in baseball with 148 total home runs against right-handed pitching. The Cardinals lineup includes targetable DFS options, but they are exceedingly expensive on the DraftKings slate. Each of the top four hitters is priced well over $5,000, with leadoff man Tommy Edman checking in at $5,800 and the second-highest hitter salary on the team. Edman is a quality leadoff man who stole 30 bases despite just a .308 on-base percentage, he needs to reach first more frequently to capitalize on his ability, but he is more the $3,200 FanDuel player than he is the option DraftKings is seeing with their price tag. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are more deserving of their top-shelf prices, bookending slugger Tyler O’Neill in the heart of the order. All three hitters went over the 30-home-run mark last season, O’Neill and Arenado tied with 34 and Goldschmidt hit 31, they are a fantastic trio for stacking purposes where they can be afforded. O’Neill was exceptional last season, he created runs 45% better than average, the best mark on the team, and fulfilled his long-awaited potential, even exceeding expectations with a .286/.352/.560 triple-slash and a .274 ISO. The three power hitters are followed by a reasonable collection of less expensive options. Catcher Yadier Molina is fine as a cheap position filler where catchers are required, but switch-hitting Dylan Carlson and perennially underrated power-hitting shortstop Paul DeJong are better options. DeJong hit 19 home runs in 402 plate appearances last year, though he did fall below the Mendoza line and was terrible getting on base, turning in a .197/.284/.390 slash. Veteran lefty Corey Dickerson is a cheap wildcard if he is in the lineup, but the premium options are the expensive bats up top for the Cardinals.
New York Mets
Anyone who has followed baseball for more than five minutes should know better than to feature the Mets on Opening Day, but here they are. Such is the promise of the nearly $300 million team. After last season’s splashy acquisition of Francisco Lindor, the Mets went out and got Starling Marte to join their outfield while adding Eduardo Escobar to bolster the situation in the infield. Veteran Mark Canha adds another excellent right-handed bat in what should be a premium lineup for MLB DFS stacking all season.
Brandon Nimmo should be leading off for New York tomorrow, adding an inexpensive piece to the top of the popular stack. Nimmo is a capable hitter with an excellent nose for reaching first base. In 2020, the outfielder had a .404 on-base percentage over his 225 plate appearances, and he posted a .401 mark in a 386-plate-appearance season last year. Nimmo went .292/.401/.437 with eight home runs and five stolen bases last year, creating runs 37% better than league average through his ability to reach base ahead of the premium hitters behind him in the lineup. At just $2,600 on FanDuel and $3,900 on DraftKings he is an interesting option for Mets stacks.
Starling Marte is an excellent addition to this team. Marte has a premium hit tool, he struck out in just 18.8% of his plate appearances last year and posted a .308/.381/.456 triple-slash with 12 home runs and a whopping 47 stolen bases in 526 plate appearances last year. The speedy outfielder created runs 33% better than average in 2021 and he will be hitting in front of two excellent power bats, Marte seems primed for a big year, he is priced like it on DraftKings at $5,100 but not on FanDuel, where he can be found for just $3,600.
Switch-hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor was a disappointment to Mets fans who had title-contention dreams on Opening Day one year ago. Lindor posted just a .230/.322/.412 slash with 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases, creating runs merely three percent better than average his first year in Queens. The long track record with the shortstop suggests that this was a blip in what should return to being an excellent career. Lindor turned in three straight seasons of more than 32 home runs for Cleveland from 2017-2019, he hit eight in 266 plate appearances in the short 2020, and he is a career .278/.343/.478 hitter who has created runs 17% better than average over the years. Lindor is one of the top bounce-back candidates in baseball, get in while the prices are just $4,600 on DraftKings and $3,800 on FanDuel, they will be going up.
Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs at a rate of 7.6% as a rookie in 2019. The mighty slugger followed that with 16 home runs in 239 plate appearances in 2020, a 6.69% pace, and 37 in 637 opportunities last year for a 5.8% rate. While there is an obvious downward angle to that graph, Alonso is still one of the league’s apex power hitters. He comes into this season with reasonable expectations of more than 40 home runs and an upside to more than 50. Alonso’s home run output slipped last year despite a return to a 14.8% barrel rate, outpacing the 14.6% he posted in the breakout rookie season and the 12.8% he reached in 2020. He also posted a career-high, by a lot, hard-hit rate of 47.3% in 2021. His 2019 rate was just 42.2% which makes the 53-home-run total all the more outrageous Alonso struck out just 19.9% of the time, an excellent rate for a hitter with this much pop, he is cheap at $3,600 on FanDuel and $4,800 on DraftKings, he belongs in most Mets stacks.
J.D. Davis is a flexible option on the field for the Mets, which will help him find plate appearances on a regular basis this year. Davis saw 211 opportunities through an injury-riddled 2021, delivering a .285/.384/.436 slash with five home runs and a single stolen base but striking out a career-high 32.2% of the time while walking at an 11.4% clip. In 2020, Davis posted a .247/.371/.389 slash in his 229 plate appearances, and in 2019 he hit 23 home runs while going .307/.369/.527 with a .220 ISO. Who this hitter truly is anyone’s guess, Davis would not be a surprise at 20 home runs or out of the lineup entirely by year’s end, but if he hits fifth after Alonso at cheap prices on Opening Day, Davis will have value in differentiation and price on both MLB DFS sites.
Eduardo Escobar brings a quality bat to both sides of the plate for New York. The switch-hitting infielder hit 28 home runs with a .253/.314/.472 slash while creating runs seven percent better than average for Arizona last year. Escobar should shine in a new and much better offense, but he will need to improve on a limited 34% hard-hit rate to truly pop with his new team. For just $2,900, Escobar is a better option on the blue site than he is at $4,100 on DraftKings.
Outfielder Mark Canha hits from the right side of the plate and should be hovering in the later part of the Mets lineup on Thursday. Canha saw 625 plate appearances last year, turning in a .231/.358/.387 triple slash while creating runs 15% better than average. Canha’s quality comes in his on-base acumen. He has a .344 on-base percentage for his career and a 116 WRC+, and he added a career-high 12 stolen bases last year. Canha drew a strong 12.3% walk rate and limited strikeouts to just 20.5% in 2021, the walk rate was actually a three-year low, but so was the strikeout total. Canha will be slightly better for stacks on days he hits either at the top of the lineup or at the very end of it, acting as a quality wrap-around option back to the premium power bats. If he is floating around seventh is has less utility but he is still firmly on the board.
Infielder Jeff McNeil is another frustrating hitter to figure out for the Mets. McNeil got through the first three seasons of his career on the back of an inflated batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2018, that mark was a beefy .359 and McNeil went .329/.381/.471 with a 136 WRC+. In 2019 his BABIP was .337 and he posted another strong slash of .318/.384/.531, adding 23 home runs and a .214 ISO in a power output that is currently a strange outlier. 2020 saw McNeil make 209 plate appearances in the shortened season, he again had a terrific BABIP of .335 and turned in a .311/.383/.454 triple-slash with a 131 WRC+. Last season, despite maintaining his 13.6% strikeout rate and keeping the ball in play with regularity, his best skill, McNeil cratered to a .280 BABIP and the rest of his numbers followed like lemmings. The career-low .251/.319/.360 triple-slash and WRC+ seven percent below average were major concerns for a team expecting to contend for a title. McNeil will not have much leash with the now analytically driven Mets front office, though their old school manager may see things differently. McNeil is inexpensive and flexible across the industry. If his luck returns, he could be a quality MLB DFS option all year long.
James McCann was an underrated acquisition by the Mets ahead of last season. McCann has a quality bat for a catcher, though he leaves something to be desired behind the plate when it comes to framing pitches and some advanced catching metrics. For MLB DFS purposes, however, McCann is a strong option where catchers are required. He hit 10 home runs in 412 plate appearances for the Mets last year, but he had a quality 40.7% hard-hit rate, and he has reached loftier heights in previous seasons, including an 18-home-run year for the White Sox in 2019. McCann is not a traditional wraparound option if he is hitting last, he does not get on base with enough frequency to create correlation with the top of the lineup, he would be better hitting seventh where his bat can drive in runs, letting McNeil or Canha take the wraparound spot. Where catchers are needed he can be deployed as an endcap to Mets stacks.
Home Run Prediction Today: Tyler O’Neill — St. Louis Cardinals
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