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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 5/4/21

Terry McBride



MLB DFS DraftKings FanDuel Daily Fantasy Baseball Optimal Lineups Home Runs

Tuesday’s loaded slate of MLB DFS action has several standout games for daily fantasy baseball scoring and a few that are simply going to be fun baseball games. The slate has two true aces, both from the NL East, one of whom is simply the best pitcher in baseball; beyond those two the options become thin and shaky quickly. With most of the teams on the slate on the back end of their rotations, there are some tough choices to make where second starters are required. Even on the single-pitcher sites, paying up or saving money and rolling the dice on the mound is going to be a critical inflection point for this slate. The aces are priced far higher than their fellow starters on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Given the shaky arms, there are several very juicy-looking stacks from which to make MLB DFS picks today.

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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.

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

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 11.74

Baltimore Orioles: Maikel Franco — 13.47

Boston Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec — 15.12

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 14.38

Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candelario — 11.60

Houston Astros: Alex Bregman — 12.49

Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler — 11.95

Los Angeles Angels: Justin Upton — 11.53

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 9.09

Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton — 10.68

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 7.87

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 7.30

Oakland Athletics: Sean Murphy — 6.07

Philadelphia Phillies: Andrew McCutchen — 8.00

Pittsburgh Pirates: Todd Frazier — 9.20

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 14.01

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 9.24

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 6.49

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows — 9.00

Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo — 14.31

Toronto Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez — 12.14

Washington Nationals: Kyle Schwarber — 6.53

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Power Index

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 Pitchers, 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

One starter stands alone above all others on this slate in both talent and projection. Jacob deGrom is the priciest pitcher on both FanDuel and DraftKings, though the difference between his price and that of fellow ace Aaron Nola is greater on FanDuel, where deGrom costs $12,500 to Nola’s $9,200. That salary difference is only $700 on DraftKings, with deGrom at $11,100 and Nola pulling in a $10,400 mark. There is no way to roster a competent team and both hurlers on the slate, so everyone is going to be taking a necessary dip into the mid-range pool of starters on this slate.

Between the two aces, deGrom is the clear choice. He stands nearly twice the chance of being the top option that Nola does, going by the Top Pitchers Tool. DeGrom leads Nola by more than a handful of fantasy points in my personal projections and he looks great across the board on the site. The only issue in getting to deGrom is the overwhelming public ownership and the heavy price tag. Still, this is a starter with a 48.0% strikeout rate over his first 35 innings this season. While that mark is absurdly high, it’s not as if deGrom is doing this out of nowhere. He struck out 38.8% of hitters across 68 innings last season and 31.7% in 204 innings in 2019. DeGrom is a go-to anytime he is on the slate, and this is as good as good chalk gets.

Nola should not be ignored. He is taking on a Brewers team that is currently striking out at a fourth-worst 27.0% clip against right-handed pitching. Milwaukee has just a .151 team ISO in the split and produces runs 20% worse than average, leading to a strong projection for Nola that would be slate-leading were it not for deGrom’s monster number. He has a 25.8% strikeout rate this season. That mark is down from last year’s 33.2% but still very playable with plenty of upside for more in this matchup. Nola has otherwise been outstanding, walking just 3.3% of hitters and putting up a 3.38 xFIP with a 0.96 WHIP in his 37 innings over six starts this season. Nola is also drawing significant ownership as the obvious next-best option, but he should be rostered at least with the field, if not beyond it. If the public projection comes down through the day this play will get stronger.

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The rest of the pitching slate is a mediocre mess mainly made up of reclamation projects. Alex Cobb has struck out 28.8% of hitters over his first 16 innings but was at 16.8% over 52 innings in 2020 and just 13.3% in a limited 12-inning 2019. Red Sox righty Nick Pivetta has a 3.83 xFIP with a 1.05 WHIP and a 23.5% strikeout rate over 21 innings in three starts so far but was at a bumpy 5.67 xFIP with a 2.06 WHIP and just a 14.7% strikeout rate in 10 starts last year and did not pitch in 2019. J.A. Happ is typically best left alone but does have an easy matchup against a Rangers team that ranks fourth from the bottom of the league with a .128 ISO and ninth worst with a 25.6% strikeout rate against left-handed pitching this season. None of these starters are comfortable to roster, but all of them will be in play. Of the trio, the pitcher who projects the best in my personal model is the one who offers the least comfort: Happ. Pivetta has the best matchup, taking on a Tigers team that has struck out 29.2% of the time against righties this season, second worst in the league and fourth worst at 25.1% dating to the start of 2019.

Save for the aces, most of the board is within mere percentage points of one another in the Top Starters Tool. It makes sense to spread out remaining ownership shares between the various options as salary allows. There are several pitchers drawing essentially no attention on both sites, though they are all in tricky spots. Atlanta’s Huascar Ynoa will be in a better matchup if Juan Soto does not return to the lineup; if Soto does make it back from the IL today Ynoa is going to draw one of the best bats in baseball and he becomes less appealing. Nationals starter Joe Ross is an interesting option for where he ranks on the board and for the lack of public ownership, but the matchup is extremely tough, the Braves are seventh best in baseball with just a 22.8% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching, and they have a .195 team ISO in the split while creating runs 12% better than average.

Zack Greinke is down to just an 18.4% strikeout rate over 36 innings this year. Last season he had a 24.5% rate in 67 innings following a 23.1% over 208 frames in 2019 — the decline is real and it is concerning. Greinke’s loss of velocity and the decline in his stuff in general are topic covered on several shows already. His fastball comes in at around 88mph reducing the differential between it and his change-up to absurd degrees. Greinke gets by on veteran wherewithal and control. He still is walking just 4.1% of hitters and has a 4.18 xFIP and a 1.15 WHIP. Greinke is taking on a gradually awakening Yankees lineup in Yankee Stadium, a dangerous place to pitch. The Yankees’ strikeout numbers are down to start the season. They are eighth best in baseball with just a 22.8% strikeout rate against righties this year, though their power and run production have been sub-par. Greinke is likely in more danger than he is a spot for potential upside.

TOR — 1-5 – Springer – Bichette – Guerrero – Hernandez – Grichuk

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The Blue Jays are away from the friendly confines of the Florida sandlot they temporarily are calling home, playing instead in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. The Blue Jays’ dynamic young roster is loaded with talent and largely healthy, with George Springer making his recent return. Toronto is taking on Athletics rookie southpaw Cole Irvin, who had under 50 innings in the Majors coming into his age-27 season. Irvin has made five starts this year, striking out 21.4% of hitters and putting up a respectable 3.93 xFIP so far. He has a bumpy 1.30 WHIP despite walking just 3.4% of hitters, yielding a .341 batting average on balls in play against. Irvin has a bottom-6% .317 expected batting average against and a .516 expected slugging percentage against, with all of his breaking pitches profiling for greater than a .600 xSLG. This is a pitcher who may be more targetable than he appears on the surface. The Blue Jays rank well in the Top Stacks Tool and they are one of the more positively leveraged options on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

With Springer back at the top of the batting order, the Blue Jays lineup got deeper and tougher in a hurry. Springer is a star, hitting 14 home runs in just 222 plate appearances last season, with a .265/.359/.540 slash. He had a monster 39 home runs in his 556 plate appearance 2019. Springer had a .292/.383/.591 slash that season with a fantastic .299 ISO while creating runs 56% better than average. This year he has made just 18 plate appearances in his four games since returning, and he has already hit two home runs. Springer is expensive on both sites but a fantastic option at virtually no ownership.

Bo Bichette mans shortstop for the Blue Jays and is likely to hit second. Bichette hit .301/.328/.512 in a small 128 plate appearance sample last season. The year before, he saw 212 chances in his debut, resulting in a stellar .311/.358/.571 triple-slash with a .260 ISO and 11 home runs. Bichette is quietly one of the better bats at the position right now. In 118 plate appearances, Bichette has hit seven home runs and stolen three bases. He has a .248 ISO with a .266/.314/.514 slash, creating runs 29% above average. Bichette has struck out more this season, 27.1% compared to 21.1% last year, but has also boosted his walks from 3.9% to 5.1% so far. If he tempers the swing and miss, he could be looking at a truly elite season.

That roar you’ve been hearing in the background of the MLB DFS season so far has been the freight train of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s breakout season getting up to speed. Guerrero has been one of baseball’s best-regarded heirs apparent in recent memory, off to a .356/.496/.644 start with a .289 ISO and obliterating seven home runs in his 115 tries. He has already been excellent limiting strikeouts, putting up a 17.7% mark in his rookie season in 2019 and improving to 15.6% in his 243 plate appearances last year. This year he is right on pace at 15.7% but his walk rate has spiked to a borderline hilarious 19.1%; a near-Bonds level of drawing the free pass. Skipping Guerrero in more than a couple of your Blue Jays stacks would absolutely be a mistake.

Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez also recently returned to the Blue Jays lineup and immediately slots into the cleanup spot. Hernandez has underrated power; he hit 16 home runs while going .289/.340/.579 over 207 plate appearances last season. The year before, Hernandez hit 26 long balls in just 464 tries. At just $4,200 on DraftKings and $2,900 on FanDuel, Hernandez is far too cheap for his productive bat. He will be one of the more popular Blue Jays but should come in well under 10% overall public ownership. This is another easy click in the middle of an excellent lineup.

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Power hitting righty Randal Grichuk is a familiar name for MLB DFS fans. Grichuk typically makes for a quality one-off at reasonable mid-range prices regardless of the situation. He is at just $2,800 on the blue site and $4,000 on DraftKings. Grichuk is off to a .296/.340/.490 start with a .194 ISO and five home runs in his 106 plate appearances. There is plenty of power upside for Grichuk in the matchup against a lefty as well, though he reliably produces power against both hands. Grichuk is a good way to offset a bit of the heavy salary atop this lineup.

Marcus Semien is pricey at $4,900 on the DraftKings slate, while he comes in for only $3,000 and adds shortstop eligibility on the FanDuel slate. Semien hit 33 home runs in 747 plate appearances in 2019, putting up a .285/.369/.522 slash with a .237 ISO, marks that would fit in nicely with the other star bats on this team. He cratered to a .223/.304/.374 last season, hitting just seven home runs with a disappointing .152 ISO. This year the power is back. Semien has a .183 ISO and six home runs in his first 117 plate appearances, but he is still at just a .231/.308/.413 line. There is upside in the bat and the pricing.

Outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is another second-generation player on a team with several of them. He has a .227/.255/.330 slash and just a .102 ISO to start his 2020 campaign, hitting two home runs in 94 chances. Last season he had a .226 ISO and hit 11 home runs and a .308/.348/.534 in just 224 plate appearances, following a 343 plate appearance 2019 that saw him hit 20 home runs with a stellar .264 ISO. Gurriel has reliably created runs between 24 and 35% better than average the last two seasons. He is underpriced and under-owned for his upside on both sites.

Infielder Santiago Espinal and Danny Jansen are likely in the bottom of the projected lineup, though Cavan Biggio would be a more fun choice for MLB DFS despite his struggles against fellow lefties. Espinal is known more for his glove than his bat. He has been around or below a .100 ISO throughout his brief Major League experience as well as through his minor league career, with an outlier stop in Boston’s system in 2018. Jansen, on the other hand, brings some well-regarded power potential to the plate with him, though he has had troubles fully translating it to production. In 2019, Jansen hit 13 home runs in 384 plate appearances while going an ugly .207/.279/.360 and creating runs 32% worse than average. He had a .175 ISO in 147 plate appearances last year, hitting six home runs and improving his run creation to just 14% worse than average in the small sample. There is upside to Jansen, though he is better where catchers are required. Neither Espinal nor Jansen make for a logical wraparound, but Jansen could be an end-cap to a mid-lineup stack.

HR Call: Franmil Reyes — Cleveland Indians

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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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