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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 4/17/21

Terry McBride



MLB DFS picks for DraftKings + FanDuel daily fantasy baseball contests like Mike Trout on Awesemo's Deeper Dive Show on 6/7/21.

With a wacky split slate day of MLB DFS between the sites, we have action throughout the day, giving us a nice daily fantasy baseball fix. The five-game main slate is our focus for the pitching and stacking section, while the home run picks include all of the afternoon games. With just a handful of games to choose from and some ugly-looking pitching options – outside of the stellar matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish – the main slate is going to be extremely interesting tonight.

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The main slate kicks off at 7:05 p.m. ET on both sites. The Awesemo team will be here for all of it, providing updates to tools and data throughout, including the Strategy Show, which you can find on YouTube and Live Before Lock later in the day. Speaking of tools, if you aren’t visiting the Top Stacks Tool regularly, you’re just making your MLB DFS picks incorrectly. The Top Starters Tool is every bit as important in deciding who takes the hill for your daily fantasy baseball lineup.


MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Top HR Options

Home Run Ratings

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 won’t always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star who would be in that spot every day.

Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great

Atlanta Braves: Marcell Ozuna — 17.05

Baltimore Orioles: Maikel Franco — 7.05

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 12.56

Chicago Cubs: Joc Pederson — 5.24

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 16.31

Cincinnati Reds: Eugenio Suarez — 13.03

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 4.97

Detroit Tigers: Renato Nunez — 10.66

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 10.59

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout – 23.05

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy — 4.34

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 8.17

Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 7.06

Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson — 16.46

Philadelphia Phillies: Alec Bohm — 8.97

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 4.93

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers — 7.38

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 4.88

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 12.13

Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo — 14.92


MLB DFS Optimal Stacks & Leverage Plays

(Quick note: if it says 1-5, it means hitters 1-2-3-4-5. Otherwise, I will specify spots)

This section will feature a few standout MLB DFS spots and teams to look at for potential plays here. Make sure to check out the ownership projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

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On the Hill

There are two elite pitchers among the 10 arms available for MLB DFS picks tonight, namely Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, the two will be pitching against one another in what should be an excellent and fun-to-watch matchup between NL West contenders. While both pitchers are utterly elite at what they do, the matchups are not necessarily the best on the board, and only one will be able to lock a win bonus if we get to that point.

Against left-handed pitching dating to the start of the 2019 season, the Padres active roster ranks 11th in baseball with a .193 ISO, 15th with a 22.3% strikeout rate, and just 21st with 69 home runs hit against southpaws, though they create runs in the split at a second-best 23% better than league average in the split, which makes for a frustrating point from which to assess them for MLB DFS purposes. Kershaw has been the definition of an elite lefty throughout his career and is showing only minimal signs of slowing down. Last season he had an excellent 28.1% strikeout rate and a 3.05 xFIP with a 0.84 WHIP across his 58 innings in 10 starts. There is plenty of upside for Kershaw, but the Padres’ ability to create runs and their respectable power keeps his projection in check to some degree. He does not rank as highly as expected for a raw point projection but still is one of the top options on the board in our Top Pitchers Tool.

Yu Darvish will be on the other side, taking on the excellent Dodgers lineup. The right-hander was tremendous last season, putting up a 31.3% strikeout rate and a 2.82 xFIP with a 0.96 WHIP in his 76 innings across 12 starts after reclaiming his career by adding a cutter to his arsenal the year before. Darvish is on pace this season. He has a 27.5% strikeout rate and a 0.96 WHIP across his first 17 innings in three starts. Still, the Dodgers are a mighty challenge; dating to the start of 2019, the active roster is first against righties with a .233 ISO, first creating runs 28% better than average, fifth with 246 home runs and second with a fantastic 19.8% team strikeout rate in the split. This team brutalizes right-handed pitching regularly up against one of the apex right-handed pitchers in the league. Darvish lands similarly to Kershaw, with a lowish-for-him projection, but still as one of the top options overall on a five-game slate.

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Pivoting away from this game leaves us in a morass of middling options, including the aging Zack Greinke, who gets by on guts and guile but walks a very narrow tightrope with his limited arsenal; sophomore Dane Dunning, who had an excellent debut last year and gets a solid matchup against the Orioles; and veteran Jose Quintana whose primary asset at this point is his affordability. Ignoring all of those options for a moment, Dean Kremer is standing out as an option that the public may be reluctant to roster on a small slate.

Kremer is projecting well in my personal model and ranks well in the site’s projection and tools for tonight’s matchup against the strikeout happy Texas Rangers lineup. On the FanDuel slate, Kremer costs just $6,500, while he is at a highly affordable $6,000 price point on the DraftKings slate. Kremer is not a known commodity for MLB DFS players, and the power that some of the Rangers bats flash, combined with their general affordability and extreme popularity on the slate, has the public’s eyes on other pitchers. They could be missing out on a solid option. Kremer struck out 26.5% of Major League hitters in his 18 innings over four starts last season and was consistently around or above a 30% strikeout rate throughout his stops in the minors. Perhaps accelerated a bit too quickly, given the extreme circumstances in which last year was played, Kremer took some bumps and is bound to take more as he develops on the fly, but there is underrated upside in a matchup against a team with an average season-long strikeout rate projection of 26% from Steamer. This is an interesting spot that unlocks whatever bats you want. I plan to be over the field on Kremer tonight.

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The Twins have been a go-to in matchups against left-handed pitching with their power from the right side of the plate. The team gets a strong matchup against Jose Quintana, who has provided some general real baseball reliability, despite a propensity to allow too many baserunners, but is not the strongest of MLB DFS pitching options. Quintana has thrown just five innings across his first two starts of this season and only threw 10 last year. We saw him for 171 innings in 2019, when he put up a 20.4% strikeout rate and a 3.80xFIP with a 1.39 WHIP while yielding 19 of the 20 home runs he allowed to right-handed hitters.

The Twins projected lineup on one site has Mitch Garver landing in the leadoff spot once again. The slugging catcher had a standout 2019, hitting 31 home runs in just 359 plate appearances with a solid .273/.365/.630 triple-slash and a ridiculous .357 ISO. Last season he cratered to a horrendous .167/.247/.264 in his 81 plate appearances. We can largely forgive that, but for a player who had an outlier year, it is difficult to say where the real Garver begins. He will be very popular at the top of the Twins lineup if that’s where we get him, at just $2,400 on the FanDuel slate. On DraftKings, Garver costs $5,200 but will still have significant ownership.

Josh Donaldson will also be extremely popular on both sites, given a five-game slate and limited options from which to choose. The power-packed third baseman hit just six home runs in only 102 plate appearances in an in-and-out of the lineup season last year. In 2019 he was a tremendous power option, hitting 37 home runs in 659 plate appearances. Donaldson has a career .286 ISO and just a 17.7% strikeout rate against left-handed pitching. He is a spectacular option in this spot for everything but his popularity.

Nelson Cruz is out to a ridiculous start to what will soon be his age 41 (we think) season. Cruz has a .390/.426/.732 triple slash in his 47 plate appearances. He has already mashed four home runs, and he has a .341 ISO while creating runs at a mind-bending 111% better than the average in the tiny sample. Cruz is a ludicrously good hitter against left-handed pitching. This season Cruz has 17 plate appearances against lefties, and he has already hit a home run. That puts him slightly behind his absurd career pace of a home run every 16.33 plate appearances against a lefty. Record-keeping services tend to use at-bats with this metric, in which case Cruz would have a home run every 14.09 at-bats against a lefty for his career. For reference, Babe Ruth hit a home run every 11.76 at-bats across both hands for his career. While not quite Ruthian, Cruz’s mark is in elite company; he will be justifiably popular on this slate.

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Outfielder Kyle Garlick adds an interesting bat to the middle of the lineup. Garlick is a 29-year-old “quad-A” type of player, though he had a nice 23 home run season in just 304 plate appearances in AAA in 2019 for the Dodgers. Projected to hit in the middle of the Twins lineup, he will have the opportunity to display some power and drive-in runs as a wildly under-owned piece of the stack. If the public is not going to the off-brand Twins names at low prices, they become highly appealing. Garlick is part of that group.

Joining him in the middle of the projected lineup is hit-tool specialist Luis Arraez. The lack of power is always a concern, but Arraez has demonstrated his value time and again with his ability to scratch out hits and get on-base and his extreme ability to limit strikeouts. Arraez is frequently the one scoring when the big bats in this lineup drive in runs.

Miguel Sano is typically somewhat under-owned in Twins stacks, given his monstrous power upside. Sano blasted 13 home runs in just 205 plate appearances last season and 34 in just 439 chances the year before. Sano has a career .246/.336/.510 triple slash with a .264 ISO and 123 WRC+ against southpaws as compared to a .235/.331/.485 line with a still-excellent .250 ISO and 117 WRC+ against same-handed pitchers. He is a strong option who should not be skipped with much frequency.

Jorge Polanco is an enigmatic player for MLB DFS purposes. The middle infielder has had standout seasons. He hit 22 home runs in 2019, but just four last year. Polanco hits from both sides of the plate but is slightly better on the other side of splits. Still, the public is behind the curve, and he is in play to help differentiate some lineups from the bottom-third of the order.

Outfielders Max Kepler and Jake Cave may or may not be in the lineup against a lefty. Kepler struggles in the split, with a career .217/.287/.364 slash and a .147 ISO. Cave has a .214/.254/.384 slash with a .170 ISO but just a 67 WRC+ in the split. It would be surprising to see them both in the lineup, they do not make great options for anything more than differentiation, and it makes sense to look to hitters around them once the lineup is confirmed.

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HR Call: Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros

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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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