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

Terry McBride



Awesemo's FREE MLB DraftKings Picks Daily Fantasy Baseball & DFS cheat sheet based on Alex Baker's expert projections for today's slate 9/14.

The Sunday MLB DFS slate features a solid 10 games through the afternoon on both DraftKings and FanDuel. The slate has several reliable premium pitching options at the top end, but it is primarily comprised of a solid mid-range on the mound. There are several extremely targetable pitchers taking the mound for their teams as well, which should play well to finding quality stacks on which to focus. This has the makings of a slate where gamers will want to spread out pitching shares and focus on paying for high-end bats in good spots.

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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Top HR 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 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 will not always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star in that spot every day.

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Home Run Ratings

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

Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall — 12.24

Baltimore Orioles: Maikel Franco — 10.53

Boston Red Sox: Hunter Renfroe — 14.05

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto — 9.76

Cleveland Indians: Bobby Bradley — 13.05

Detroit Tigers: Eric Haase — 11.00

Houston Astros: Carlos Correa — 8.86

Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez — 12.39

Milwaukee Brewers: Rowdy Tellez — 7.83

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 5.61

New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 5.65

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 13.89

Philadelphia Phillies: J.T. Realmuto — 5.67

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes — 7.84

San Francisco Giants: Darin Ruf — 6.65

Seattle Mariners: Abraham Toro — 9.31

St. Louis Cardinals: Paul DeJong — 8.29

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows — 9.47

Toronto Blue Jays: George Springer — 11.26

Washington Nationals: Josh Bell — 5.72

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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.

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 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.

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On the Hill

The Sunday pitching slate has one major source of upside and reliability in the excellent Zack Wheeler, who will be facing the Mets, his former team and current division rival. Wheeler is followed on the slate by a handful of quality pitchers who fall short of his lofty heights. Max Fried is on the board in a cakewalk against the Double-A lineup masquerading as the Nationals, while Tyler Mahle draws the marginally more challenging Pirates. Lance McCullers has a strong spot for strikeouts against the Twins, though their deadly power can always get in the way of a high scoring start. The mid-range is filled out by middling names that are at playable in small shares, including Zach Plesac, Johnny Cueto and Taijuan Walker. All three of Kenta Maeda, Hyun Jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi have provided playable upside in the past for MLB DFS but face extremely challenging matchups in the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.

Wheeler leads the league in innings pitched at 147 over his 22 starts, second place is Oakland’s Chris Bassitt who has put up 144 but needed 23 starts to get there. The excellent depth makes Wheeler a reliable contender for a quality start and win bonus every time he takes the mound. He has a 29.1% strikeout rate with a sparkling 2.82 xFIP and a 1.03 WHIP. Wheeler has walked just 5.6% of hitters and has induced a 12.4% swinging strike rate with a 4.5% barrel rate and just a 29.1% hard-hit percentage. Wheeler is excellent at taking the bats out of the hands of opposing hitters. The opposing Mets have an active roster that sits 16th in baseball with a 3.52% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season and falls below average in the other major categories as well. New York has a .151 collective ISO with a 24.7% strikeout rate in the split, while creating runs 10% below average by collective WRC+. For $10,400 on DraftKings and $10,700 on FanDuel, Wheeler is has an excellent chance at the day’s top score and should be rostered accordingly.

Fried is inexpensive at $8,800 on DraftKings and $8,000 on FanDuel. He has a 24.3% strikeout rate with a 3.77 xFIP over his 97.2 innings in 18 starts this season. He has yielded too many free passes at an 8% walk rate and has a bumpy 1.31 WHIP but induces a 10.9% swinging strike rate that should play well against the minimized Nationals lineup. Fried allows a too-high 7.3% barrel rate but has just a 6.8-degree average launch angle and 34.9% hard-hit rate with an 87.1 mph average exit velocity that does well to limit home run upside. The Nationals may be without lone star Juan Soto once again. Soto did not start Saturday but did pinch hit late, though he did not play in the field. With Soto, the Nationals’ active roster has an excellent 4.55% home run rate and a .185 ISO against southpaws this season, though they create runs only at the league average despite the power, and they strike out 24% of the time in the split. There are viable pivots on both sites if the Awesemo Ownership Projections give him extreme popularity in the final updates.

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Mahle has been a go-to in this space all season, nothing about that changes in an excellent matchup against the Pirates. Those who have read any pitching features in these articles through the year already know that Pittsburgh is somewhat good at limiting strikeouts and bad at everything else. The active roster is fourth worst in baseball with a 2.83% home run rate against right-handed pitching. They have a .140 collective ISO and create runs 17% worse than average in the split. The Pirates’ strikeout rate has also climbed in recent weeks, now 12th best in baseball against righties, coming in at a 23.1% rate. Mahle has a 27.9% rate but an ugly 9.1% walk rate that renders his reliability a bit more of a question by comparison to the other premium options. He has thrown 116.2 innings over 22 starts this season and has a 3.89 xFIP with a 1.24 WHIP while inducing a 12.1% swinging strike rate and limiting hard hits to 35.2%. Mahle costs just $8,400 on FanDuel but $9,800 on the DraftKings slate, and he will be extremely popular on both sites.

This is Not Repeat Content: Reds and Rays

The Reds and Rays have been in excellent matchups and have responded with runs and MLB DFS points through the weekend. Both teams will be slightly under-owned on DraftKings, given their hefty prices, while they will both slip into negative leverage territory on FanDuel. There are ways to roster both clubs and still get to unique lineup combinations by mixing in some of the less popular players from each lineup, but the exercise gets difficult with inflated salaries. On the Reds, key bats include: Jonathan India, Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos and Joey Votto. The balance of the lineup provides quality and differentiation points, with Kyle Farmer, Tyler Stephenson, and struggling power source Eugenio Suarez providing a range of quality and point-scoring acumen. On the Rays, focus hitters include Brandon Lowe, who will be the highest-owned player on the entire FanDuel slate, as well as Ji-Man Choi, Nelson Cruz, Austin Meadows, and Wander Franco. Hitters on the back end of the Rays lineup are lower owned on DraftKings but still popular on the blue site, potentially helpful bats would include Joey Wendle and Manuel Margot, while Brett Phillips is a toolsy post-hype prospect with a wide range of outcomes but a terrible triple-slash at .206/.304/.365.

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New York Yankees

The Yankees are drawing positive leverage marks on both sites this afternoon. They are facing Kikuchi in the last game of a critical series for American League Wildcard standings. The power-heavy Yankees are at home in the band box that is Yankee Stadium, and they are projecting well for power in the spot while going under-owned on both sites. Kikuchi has been solid for strikeouts, coming into today with a 26.3% rate over his 120.1 innings in 20 starts this season. What he has not done well is avoid premium contact. He has a 9.7% barrel rate and allows a 44.1% hard-hit rate with 91.1 mph of average exit velocity, though he is marginally effective at lowering home run elevation with a 7.2-degree average launch angle. The Yankees have a lineup filled with hitters who specialize in elevating and driving the baseball, there is massive upside for production in this spot. Kikuchi also yields the opportunity for sequential hitting and run creation, given an 8.2% walk rate with the contact metrics. New York’s active roster has a 4.45% home run rate with a .180 collective ISO against southpaws this season and they are second-best in baseball, creating runs 18% better than average.

D.J. LeMahieu is slashing an uncharacteristic .267/.345/.361 with a .094 ISO and creating runs just at the league average. For the past two seasons, LeMahieu created runs 77% better than average in 2020 and 36% ahead of the curve in 2019. In the short 2020 season he had a triple-slash of .364/.421/.590 with a .226 ISO and 10 home runs in just 216 plate appearances. The year before he was at .327/.375/.518 with a .191 ISO and 26 home runs in 655 tries. He has upside and will be inexpensive and unowned for just $3,400 on FanDuel and $4,500 on DraftKings.

Aaron Judge has hit 23 home runs and has a .232 ISO on the season, slashing .279/.367/.511 and creating runs 42% better than average. He strikes out 25.8% of the time but walks 11.7% and has an 18.5% barrel rate and 57.5% hard-hit rate that rank fourth and first best in baseball, respectively. At $5,100 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel, Judge is not drawing nearly enough ownership for his talents or his pricing.

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Joey Gallo has an 18.2% barrel rate with a 44.3% hard-hit rate on the season, translating the contact into 26 home runs and a .262 ISO while slashing .215/.369/.477 and creating runs 34% ahead of the average, numbers that came largely while with the lowly Rangers. Gallo strikes out 32.9% of the time but is actually a discerning hitter as well. Awesemo’s Ownership Projections have Gallo at less than 4% ownership across the industry in the lefty-lefty matchup, creating a major opportunity as the field runs from a perceived platoon challenge that is non-existent in reality. For his career, Gallo is a .205/.340/.488 hitter with a .284 ISO against righties, against same-handed pitching he is at .221/.324/.509 with a .288 ISO. He strikes out more and walks less in the split, but the power is clearly not impacted.

Giancarlo Stanton lands in the cleanup spot at $4,200 on DraftKings and $3,800 on FanDuel. Stanton has not had a highly productive season at the plate, but still comes in creating runs 29% ahead of the curve. He slots into the outfield for MLB DFS purposes – and in rare instances in real baseball lately – and he is drawing minimal ownership. Stanton has hit 17 home runs in 378 plate appearances this season, slashing .266/.362/.459 with a .193 ISO.

First baseman Luke Voit returns to the Yankees lineup today, giving Anthony Rizzo a day off. Voit has crashed back to Earth after a season and a half in the stars on first arriving in the Bronx. Voit is slashing .241/.328/.370 with three home runs and a .130 ISO in his limited 122 plate appearance sample this season. He has clear power, as was on display through 2020 when he blasted 22 home runs in just 234 opportunities, but the hype around a hitter who managed just 21 long balls in 510 tries in 2019 and had never distinguished himself prior to that is somewhat outrageous. Voit has a 29.5% strikeout rate this season and has just a 41.7% hard-hit rate with a 13.9% barrel rate. Voit is playable at low pricing and ownership, and he is certainly capable of going deep against this pitching staff in this ballpark, but he is a less shiny object than some of the other bats in the Yankees lineup today.

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Gleyber Torres is slashing .248/.324/.344 with just a .096 ISO and six home runs over 403 plate appearances this season. He slots in at shortstop on DraftKings for $4,000 and at either short or second base on FanDuel where he costs just $2,900. Torres hit 24 home runs as a rookie in 2018 and added 38 in 604 plate appearances in an excellent 2019 season, but the power disappeared after that. Torres has hit just nine home runs in 563 plate appearances over 2020 and 2021.

Rougned Odor fills in regularly until the return of Gio Urshela, at which point the pair will likely land in a platoon. Odor is slashing just .227/.305/.430 this year, has 13 home runs and has a .202 ISO while creating runs 1% better than average. He has a 40% hard-hit rate with a 9.1% barrel rate, but he strikes out 25.2% of the time and walks just 7.8%, limiting the overall quality. For a cheap plug-in as a part of Yankees stacks, Odor is workable. He comes at a cheap salary on both sites and will be almost entirely unowned.

Kyle Higashioka draws a start behind the plate, with Gary Sanchez still on the COVID-19 list. Higashioka has hit six home runs in 125 plate appearances and is slashing just .195/.272/.416, but he has a .221 ISO on the year. As a dart throw at the position, particularly where it is required, MLB DFS players could do worse.

Jonathan Davis is at the minimum salary on FanDuel and costs $2,200 on DraftKings. He is slashing .145/.275/.197 on the season with one home run and four stolen bases, creating runs 59% behind the average. Davis can help with salary but should not be relied upon for much point scoring.

HR Call: Aaron Judge — New York Yankees

To get even more action down on tonight’s MLB slate, check out the betting markets and Awesemo’s expert MLB betting picks for today.

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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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