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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 4/22/21

Terry McBride

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MLB DFS Picks & Stacks for Yahoo, DraftKings + FanDuel daily fantasy baseball lineups, including the Mariners and Mets | Monday 5/3/21

The Thursday slate of MLB DFS action has just five games in the evening, providing a highly concentrated amount of public ownership on some of the night’s key plays. With everyone jumping on the same pitching options and stacks, there could be good reason to get broad with exposures on this slate, though there could be major opportunity cost in departing from the top pitching options despite seemingly tough matchups. With an even distribution of probability through top stacks options, it seems like hitting the bullseye on pitching will be the more critical choice tonight.

The Awesemo team will be here for all the action with the morning Strategy Show – which you can find on YouTube or your favorite podcast network – and Live Before Lock this afternoon starting at 4pm ET and taking you through the main slate. We will be constantly updating all the tools and content. 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.

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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

Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts — 10.95

Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez — 11.24

Houston Astros: Michael Brantley — 6.09

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout — 18.22

Los Angeles Dodgers: Will Smith — 10.40

Miami Marlins: Brian Anderson — 7.58

New York Mets: Dominic Smith — 13.82

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 14.28

San Francisco Giants: Darin Ruf — 4.40

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 13.01

Power Index (Main Slate)

This is intended to capture the full range of home runs 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 Optimal Stacks & Leverage Plays

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.

On the Hill

Tonight’s MLB DFS slate has just one top-end pitching option available on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Beyond the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, the other top options are more typically mid-range pitchers who happen to have good matchups on tonight’s slate. After Buehler, who is the top projected option on both sites, choices narrow rather quickly.

Ranked second on Awesemo’s board, Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta has a choice matchup against the weak Mariners lineup. The Mariners active roster is eighth worst in baseball with a 26.5% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season. That mark stands at 26.2%, second-worst in the league, if we extend the sample to the start of the 2019 season. Pivetta is not nearly an ace-level pitcher, but his 23.9% strikeout rate this season (11 innings) and last (15 innings), as well as the 21.1% mark he hit in 93 innings in 2019, provides something to hitch MLB DFS pitching wagons to. There is upside in Pivetta, though his xFIP has been reliably above 5.00 and his WHIP above 1.45 over the parts of the three seasons in our sample. That Pivetta is the second-best option on this slate says more about the slate than it does the pitcher.

Houston’s Cristian Javier is in an interesting spot, taking on a tough Angels lineup. He had a solid debut last season, pitching 54 innings in 10 starts and striking out 25.2% of hitters. Javier had a 4.86 xFIP but a sparkling 0.99 WHIP last season, and there is upside in one of the Astros’ top pitching prospects. The hurler is at an excellent price on the blue site, coming in at just $7,300, though DraftKings has him priced up at $9,600. That should help claw back some leverage on that site, however, keeping Javier interesting. The primary obstacle between him and success is an Angels lineup that is fifth best in the league with a 22.0% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season. The Angels have been creating runs in the split at a pace that is 17% above average, but they have not hit for much power, registering just a .169 team ISO. Though, with a league-wide power outage, that number stands 10th in the split. This is a tough spot for Javier, but he is positively leveraged on both sites and at a discount on the FanDuel slate.

Roster Buehler in heavy volume and with a high degree of confidence — he is by far the best pitcher on this slate. Even if he does not put up a monster start in his matchup against a high-caliber Padres lineup, it is unlikely that he gets completely blown out, and given the dearth of options, he could easily post the highest score in even an average start. Buehler has been shaky to begin 2021, posting just a 17.1% strikeout rate over his 18 innings, but he is much more the pitcher who was at 28.6% last year and 29.2% the season before. There is every reason to believe he can walk the tightrope of this tricky matchup and come out as the night’s top pitcher.


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Chicago Cubs

Both teams in this game are pulling in heavy power marks in my home run model and they rank out among the top stack options on both FanDuel and DraftKings tonight. It appears to be the Cubs going under-owned once again on this slate, however, despite their 16-run outburst from just last night. With Joey Lucchesi on the hill for the Mets, there could be fireworks for the Cubs bats once again. Rostering both sides of this one makes sense.

Willson Contreras is one of the top options for offense from behind the plate. He will be extremely popular on DraftKings with the catcher requirement, and he costs just $4,600. On the FanDuel slate, he will be a less-rostered option for his $3,600 price tag. Contreras has a quality hit tool and plenty of power, and he is adept at getting on base. The catcher is off to a .261/.391/.577 start, with five home runs in just 64 plate appearances this season, putting up a massive .308 ISO. He should not be left out of stacks against this lefty starter.

Kris Bryant needs no formal introduction. He has been among the best hitters in baseball throughout his career, though he struggled mightily in 2020. Bryant had just a .206/.293/.351 slash last season, seeing just 147 plate appearances. Gamers can largely write that off to small sample noise, as Bryant is a career .280/.380/.510 hitter with a .230 ISO. This season he is already back up to a .268/.373/.607 line with five home runs in his 67 plate appearances. There is every reason to believe in the turnaround.

Anthony Rizzo costs just $4,400 on DraftKings and $3,400 on FanDuel, and he will not be popular despite likely hitting in the middle of this lineup. For his career, Rizzo has a .250/.352/.426 triple-slash with a .177 ISO, while he hits .278/.379/.507 with a .229 ISO against the opposite hand. Still, he creates runs 14% better than the average against fellow southpaws and only strikes out 16.6% of the time. Rizzo is likely to be in the lineup and will remain a productive option as a part of Cubs stacks.

Javy Baez has a heavy strikeout rate but is a prime power option on most slates. He hit eight home runs in 235 plate appearances last season and 29 in 561 chances the year before. Hitting from the right side against a lefty, Baez has a .243 ISO for his career and creates runs 26% better than average. He is in a prime spot to put up a big number on tonight’s slate if he is in the heart of the Cubs batting order.

Joc Pederson is going to hit against same-handed pitching this year in Chicago and is likely to be in the lineup tonight. Pederson has struggled overall this season, putting up just a .137/.262/.235 slash in 61 plate appearances after his .190/.285/.397 from 138 tries last year. Pederson is 1-for-14 with five strikeouts against left-handed pitching this season and has just a .187/.262/.302 slash with a .115 ISO against southpaws for his career, creating runs 44% worse than average. This is a questionable hole in the lineup to start the game, but if the Cubs chase Lucchesi early, Pederson could see as many as three plate appearances against right handed pitching out of the bullpen.

The bottom of the Cubs lineup is not bereft of quality. Outfielders Jake Marisnick and Jason Heyward cost just $2,700 and $3,400, respectively, on DraftKings, $2,200 and $2,400 on FanDuel. Both players flash infrequent upside at the plate. Heyward hit six home runs in 181 chances last year with 21 in 589 opportunities the season before. Marisnick saw just 34 tries at the plate last season, but he made 318 plate appearances the year before, hitting 10 home runs in the process. There is cheap flexibility with no ownership at the bottom of the lineup at worst.

Second baseman David Bote may be hitting at the bottom of the lineup. He is another player light on upside, but with the variance baked into baseball, a few Bote shares offer differentiation at just $3,000 on DraftKings and $2,400 on FanDuel. He hit seven home runs in 145 plate appearances last season, so roster that power potential and ignore his .200/.303/.408 triple slash.

HR Call: Mitch Haniger — Seattle Mariners


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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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