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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 4/8/21

Terry McBride



According to a report, the New York Mets are looking at making a run at Kris Bryant when free agency begins this offseason

Another day slate of baseball has MLB DFS fanatics up and at ’em early on Thursday. With a quality seven-game slate featuring a Coors Field game and a few good-looking spots for offense, there is some work ahead. The pitching slate lacks an extreme standout option, with Jose Berrios likely qualifying for the title of slate ace. There are a few mid-range MLB DFS picks on the mound, which should allow for paying up for the preferred bats, but ducking the public and threading the ownership needle will be critical once again.

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The slate kicks off at 1:10 p.m. ET on both sites. The Awesemo team will be here for all of it, providing updates to tools and data throughout, including back to back Strategy Show and Live Before Lock from 11 a.m. ET to 1 p.m. ET. Speaking of tools, if you aren’t visiting the Top Stacks Tool on a regular basis, 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 am going to give one of the top choices from each team, though 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

Arizona Diamondbacks: David Peralta — 6.24

Atlanta Braves: n/a

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 11.17

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 27.06

Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez — 4.90

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 2.70

Cincinnati Reds: n/a

Cleveland Indians: n/a

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 12.19

Detroit Tigers: n/a

Houston Astros: n/a

Kansas City Royals: Carlos Santana — 8.05

Los Angeles Angels: n/a

Los Angeles Dodgers: n/a

Miami Marlins: Adam Duvall — 9.58

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 10.26

Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton — 7.28

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 8.76

New York Yankees: n/a

Oakland Athletics: n/a

Philadelphia Phillies: n/a

Pittsburgh Pirates: Colin Moran — 5.89

San Diego Padres: n/a

San Francisco Giants: n/a

Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 7.50

St. Louis Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt — 2.05

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Tampa Bay Rays: n/a

Texas Rangers: n/a

Toronto Blue Jays: n/a

Washington Nationals: n/a


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.

CHC — 1-4 — Contreras — Bryant — Rizzo — Baez

For anyone that wasn’t with us last year, covering  Coors Field in this space will be very rare, but that is a clear go-to game for offense on this slate. Instead, the goal is to find a few of the less obvious spots that stand out a bit in projections or on the Top Stacks Tool. Based on their upside and leverage marks, the Cubs seems to fit the bill well today.

The team is in Pittsburgh taking on the Pirates and lefty starter Tyler Anderson, who does not instill fear in the hearts of hitters. In 50 innings last season, Anderson struck out just 15.8% of batters, walking 9.6% and putting up an ugly 5.93 xFIP and 1.39 WHIP. The year before, Anderson threw only 20 innings. His most effective season was in 2018, when he threw 176 innings for the Rockies, putting up a 4.21 xFIP while striking out 22.3% of hitters. Anderson is effective at limiting hard contact, but has lost his ability to induce ground balls, dropping into the 28% range and becoming much of a flyball pitcher, albeit one with an ugly home run to fly ball rate.

The Cubs bring a lineup that is relatively loaded from the right side of the plate, though they are sending up an interesting configuration for this one, without switch-hitting leadoff man Ian Happ but including platoon man extraordinaire Joc Pederson on the wrong side of his split.

Atop the lineup, there is Willson Contreras, one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. He put up just a .243/.356/.407 slash last year, swatting seven home runs along the way, but was at .272/.366/.533 with 24 home runs in his 409 plate appearances in the more normal 2019 season. Contreras is very underpriced at just $2,900 on the blue site, while his $4,900 tag on DraftKings makes him one of the more affordable of the elite Cubs bats.

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Third baseman Kris Bryant hardly needs introduction. He has starred at the hot corner in Chicago for the past six seasons, putting up excellent numbers up until the wonky 2020 season. In his forgivable 147-plate-appearance sample last year, Bryant managed just a .206/.293/.351 slash and hit only four home runs. His WRC+ dropped to 24% below average, and he had a .145 ISO. That is simply not the player Bryant is capable of being, in 2019 he put up a .282/.382/.521 slash with 31 home runs and a .239 ISO, even managing to swipe four bases along the way. That is much more the hitter that Bryant is. He is priced for that talent level on the DraftKings slate but joins the other discounted Cubs on FanDuel.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo is another Cubs bat who has an elite track record but struggled through 2020. He will be on the wrong side of splits today. For his career, Rizzo drops from a .278/.379/.507 hitter against righties to a .247/.350/.423 mark against fellow southpaws. His ISO plummets from .229 to .175, and he creates runs at a pace 12% above average as compared to 37% above against the other hand. Still, the numbers are not entirely without upside, Rizzo will be hitting third in a great lineup, and the lefty he is facing is not exactly a world beater. If the public shies away from Rizzo for the handedness matchup, it’s a good reason to look in his direction.

Javier Baez is the Cubs’ star shortstop. He joined the two previous players in the massive downswing in Chicago last season, putting up just a .203/.238/.360 slash in his 235 miserable plate appearances. The year before, Baez smashed his way to a .281/.316/.531 slash with 29 home runs. He is an elite talent, though he would benefit from being a more discerning hitter and getting on base with more frequency. At just $3,300 on the FanDuel slate, he slots in as an easy click in Cubs stacks.

Hitting Pederson against a lefty is something the Dodgers were often reluctant to try; his new team seems more willing. He brings his big left-handed bat to the heart of the order, and the Cubs just hope it’s the version that hit 36 home runs in 514 plate appearances in 2019 and not the .190/.285/.397 hitter who managed just seven in 138 plate appearances last year. In 390 plate appearances against lefties in his career, Pederson has struck out 29.2% of the time while putting up a .189/.263/.306 slash, a .117 ISO and creating runs 43% below average. Against right handed pitching, the ISO spikes to .263 and the WRC+ increases to 28% above average. This is a play we make with the hopes of getting into an ugly Pirates bullpen early.

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The bottom end of the Cubs lineup is somewhat lackluster, though Jake Marisnick and Jason Heyward have surprised before. Marisnick saw just 34 plate appearances in 2020, but did hit 10 home runs in 318 chances in 2019. Heyward is a former apex prospect who never fully arrived at his expected peak. He plays excellent defense and has shown flashes throughout, most recently in 2019 when he put up a .251/.343/.429 slash while hitting 21 home runs in 589 plate appearances. Last season he maintained the solid hit tool and knocked six balls over the wall in his limited 181 plate appearances. Heyward makes for a cheap sneaky option from the seven spot in the lineup.

David Bote is an afterthought in the eight spot, but is the type of player to hit a home run when left off of a list like this because the MLB DFS gods are cruel and fickle. Bote hit seven home runs in his 145 plate appearances in 2020 and 11 in his 356 opportunities in 2019. He is a career .238/.336/.414 hitter with a .177 ISO. There simply isn’t much reason to go diving to the bottom of the lineup for him in more than just a few builds.

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Red Sox slugger Rafael Devers looks to be in a fantastic spot against the “Weekend at Bernie’s” version of the pitcher formerly known as Matt Harvey. Now with the Orioles, the former All-Star managed just 11 innings last season and 59 the year before. In the larger of the two samples, Harvey put up a disastrous 6.35 xFIP with a 14.7% strikeout rate and a 1.54 WHIP. He is a walking target for left-handed power, which Devers has to spare. In his 1,701 career plate appearances, Devers has already mashed 74 home runs, hitting 32 in 702 chances in 2019 and keeping pace with 11 in his 248 plate appearances in 2020. For his career, Devers has tuned up right-handed pitching for a .246 ISO and a WRC+ 21% above average. The entire Sox lineup is popping for power against Harvey, but Devers stands out.

HR Call: Rafael Devers — Boston Red Sox

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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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