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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 8/9/21

Terry McBride

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

The MLB DFS week kicks off with a small slate of games that is differently shaped from site to site. The DraftKings slate includes an early 6:10 p.m. ET game to create a five-game slate, while the FanDuel slate does not begin until 8:05 and features just the four evening contests. The larger slate includes an additional premium pitcher, providing at least four high-end options for that slate. The four games that appear on both sites offer a surprisingly good selection of pitchers, putting bats in short supply and creating ownership bubbles around the prime opportunities for offense. Getting to differentiated lineups is a difficult but necessary trick to pull for GPP play on this slate. With the help of the Awesemo expert projections, these are some of the top MLB DFS picks for fantasy baseball lineups tonight.

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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

Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 5.40

Chicago White Sox: Luis Robert — 12.72

Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas — 10.99

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 7.41

Kansas City Royals: Edward Olivares — 5.13

Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm — 6.41

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 10.29

Minnesota Twins: Max Kepler — 10.13

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 14.04

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers — 4.06


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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 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.

On the Hill

Tonight’s short slate features a surprisingly deep roster of quality pitching. The DraftKings board includes Luis Castillo, who will continue his push to fix his disastrous first half in a start against Cleveland, putting him easily in play on that site. In the four games that appear on both sites, go-to pitching options include Freddy Peralta in an excellent spot against the depleted Cubs, Joe Musgrove taking on the Marlins, and Lucas Giolito, who draws the Twins. Additional quality can likely be wrung from an inexpensive Jameson Taillon in a start against the Royals, and possibly Zach Thompson, though the rookie has a very challenging opponent in the Padres.

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Castillo is a solid option on the DraftKings slate. He comes into today’s contest with a 23.2% strikeout rate and a 3.79 xFIP in 23 starts. He has thrown 127.2 innings and provides generally reliable depth, despite his struggles with earned runs through most of the first half. Within the things that he can control, Castillo has been at least acceptable, he has a strong 12.7% induced swinging strike rate but a too-low 27.4% CSW. He has been good at avoiding premium contact, coming up with a 4.9% barrel rate and a 38.5% hard-hit rate on the season. Castillo’s .356 expected slugging percentage allowed stands in the 68th percentile. He has been better for strikeouts throughout his career and his numbers have been climbing since the turnaround point his season, and he is facing a Cleveland team that has a projected lineup with an average strikeout rate in excess of 26%. For the season, Cleveland’s active roster sits in the middle of the league with a 24% strikeout rate against righties, they have a .167 team ISO and a 3.83% home run rate that are slightly above average but create runs eight percent worse than average in the split. At $10,000, Castillo is projecting for a manageable amount of ownership on the five-game slate and is worthy of consideration.

Peralta is the top option on both sites. He will be owned in a broad share of lineups on both sites and will likely get more popular in projections as lock approaches. Peralta has a fantastic 34.5% strikeout rate over his 114 innings in 20 starts this season. He has pitched to a 3.66 xFIP and has a 2.48 xERA (2.21 ERA), while inducing a 14.2% swinging strike rate and allowing just 5.5% barreled balls. Peralta has an 11% walk rate, but his strikeout acumen and ability to pitch out of any jams he may create make the walks more incidental than problematic. Peralta is excellent for contact, giving up just a 32.4% hard-hit rate and 86.9 mph average exit velocity. He draws a Cubs team that traded away the majority of its talent and now stands as a weak strikeout-heavy lineup. The projected Cubs batting order has at least five hitters above or approaching a 30% strikeout rate for the season. Chicago’s active roster has a 25.5% strikeout rate against righties for the season, the second-worst mark in baseball. The Cubs have a .146 collective ISO and a 3.14% home run rate that are both below average in the split, and they create runs 16% worse than average. Peralta is in one of his strongest matchups for upside of the season, yet he appears somewhat under-owned for a short slate. This makes Peralta an attractive GPP play if ownership marks hold throughout the day.

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Musgrove is at home in a pitchers’ park in a similarly good matchup. He is slated to face a Marlins team that is well below average across the board against righties (and lefties). Miami strikes out at a 24.7% clip in the split, the ninth-worst mark in baseball. The Marlins have a measly .130 ISO and a 2.67% home run rate that are near the bottom of the league, and they create runs 19% behind the curve by WRC+ against right-handed pitching. Musgrove has upside if he comes out with his best stuff. If the merely average version shows up for this game, he could still put up a viable score on a short slate. Musgrove has been underpriced for his quality all season. He comes in at $9,000 on FanDuel and $8,500 on the DraftKings slate. He has thrown 122.1 innings in 21 starts, striking out 27.9% of opposing hitters and walking 6.4%. Musgrove has a 3.50 xFIP, 0.97 WHIP, a 12.8% swinging strike rate and a 31.3% CSW. He allows a 6.1% barrel rate with 34.8% hard hit and 87.6 mph average exit velocity allowed, doing a fair job limiting power and extra-base upside in opposing hitters. There is an excellent chance that Musgrove will shine against this lineup, but he is crushingly popular on both sites. Getting away from Musgrove, or simply undercutting the field’s exposure across a large pool of entries, is an immediate way to get different.

The Twins lost some of their quality at the deadline, but they still pack a wallop and can get to any pitcher on the right day. For the season, Minnesota’s active roster is in the upper-third of the league with just a 22.8% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching, but the projected lineup that is more representative of what will be on the field has an average strikeout rate of 23.3% and several hitters who are well into the 30% range. The Twins have a 4.11% home run rate and a solid .182 team ISO in the split, both marks are well above average, while they create runs two percent ahead of the curve by collective WRC+. Minnesota is not a safe opponent, but when he is right, Giolito has the talent to find strikeouts and get through this lineup several times without taking much damage. He has a 27.7% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate over 129 innings in 22 starts this season, pitching to a 3.86 xFIP and a 1.16 WHIP. Giolito allows a 7.1% barrel rate and 34.9% hard-hit rate with an 88.1 mph average exit velocity. If he makes a mistake, Giolito allows a 20.2-degree average launch angle and can play into opposing power if he is not going right. Overall, Giolito provides an opportunity for upside, and he will be somewhat low owned on the FanDuel slate for $9,500 and $9,300 on DraftKings.

For a mere $7,800 on DraftKings and $8,100 on FanDuel, not enough of the public is paying attention to Taillon. He has been very effective over eight of his last ten starts, providing surprising depth, relatively clean outings and several instances of strikeout upside. Taillon has enough upside and quality that the opportunity cost from rostering two of the heavily owned expensive arms is not so great. On the FanDuel slate there is more of an opportunity cost in rostering Taillon as a lone starter, but at less than five percent projected ownership it would be simple to double the field without taking on too much risk. For the season, he has thrown 107 innings in 21 starts, pitching to a 4.56 xFIP and a 1.21 WHIP. He has a 24.1% strikeout rate with a 7.1% walk rate, inducing 12.1% swinging strikes but falling below average at a 27.4% CSW. Taillon has allowed too much premium contact, coming into tonight with a 9.2% barrel rate and a 41.1% hard-hit rate, though the opposing Royals have not been loaded with power this season. The active roster has a 3.04% home run rate with a .147 collective ISO against right-handed pitching, they also struggle to create runs, coming in 11% behind the average in the split. Kansas City has been good preventing strikeouts, their 21.9% rate ranks them sixth in baseball, but the team lacks upside to do significant damage. Taillon has a good chance at a quality start and should be in consideration for shares, given his price and popularity.


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Tournament Ownership and the San Diego Padres

The following two stacks will be heavily owned, but project for significant upside and warrant attention. A major portion of the field on both sites will be on one of these two teams, with the Milwaukee Brewers also drawing major shares. This creates a situation where several of the night’s teams are drawing almost all of the popularity, coming up with lineups full of hitters in the 20 to 30% owned range, while other teams are in single digits. Simply spreading out some lineup shares to the lower-owned stacks, particularly teams like the Padres that feature good hitters, is an easy way to get different from the field. The slate is extremely interesting from this perspective, given the clear available pivots at pitcher as well. Conforming with the field and building the obvious lineups is not the path to winning a GPP on a slate like this, but mixing and matching plays from these two extreme upside stacks with several of the lower-owned options can create enough lineup differentiation. For those desiring to get completely afield, the Padres are a go-to. San Diego faces Zach Thompson, who has a 24.3% strikeout rate with a nine percent walk rate and an 8.6% barrel rate, making him relatively targetable for sequential hitting and run creation with a team like San Diego. The Padres lineup is loaded with quality and opportunity, only Jake Cronenworth is drawing more than 10% ownership on DraftKings and they are lower owned than the other top-end teams on the FanDuel slate. Key hitters include the entire projected lineup from one through seven: Tommy Pham, Adam Frazier, Manny Machado, Cronenworth, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Trent Grisham. The Padres are undervalued for their MLB DFS point scoring upside on both sites tonight.

New York Yankees

A day after disappointing and leaving a small village on the bases in their game against the Mariners, the Yankees are the top-ranked team on the road in Kansas City. New York brings its power-packed lineup to face Carlos Hernandez, who has been good with a 28.1% strikeout rate but rough in most other areas. Hernandez has walked 14%, a 44.3% hard-hit rate and a 7.2% barrel rate, pitching to a 4.47 xFIP and 1.42 WHIP overall. The Yankees lineup is one of the top-ranked teams for home run upside in the power index above, and they stand at the peak of the Top Stacks Tool on both sites. The key hitters in the Yankees lineup will all be extremely popular, D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton are easy and obvious names for the public to click. The lineup continues with the overrated Luke Voit and will likely feature Rougned Odor and Tyler Wade in the infield, with Gleyber Torres going for an MRI on a thumb he jammed in yesterday’s contest and seeming likely to at least sit out tonight. Kyle Higashioka should see catching duties again and makes for a sneaky play on FanDuel but will be popular where catchers are required. Brett Gardner or Jonathan Davis are merely filler at the back end of the lineup.

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Chicago White Sox

The White Sox land in the second spot on the Top Stacks Tool and the top of the power index today. The already loaded lineup is expected to get a boost from the return of Luis Robert, and they are profiling for major MLB DFS point scoring upside as well as power up and down the lineup. Chicago is projected for extreme popularity and is drawing negative leverage on both sites, but they are difficult to avoid completely.

Tim Anderson comes in at a pitcher’s price on DraftKings where his $6,100 is keeping ownership somewhat in check. On FanDuel he costs an absurd $3,400 and will be explosively popular. Anderson is slashing .296/.327/.440 and has a .144 ISO that is down significantly from his .207 mark last season. He has 11 home runs and 16 stolen bases on the year, and he creates runs 12% better than average, providing an excellent engine for the team’s offense.

Cesar Hernandez has had a the most power-packed season of his career at age 31. He has hit 20 home runs in 459 plate appearances this year, posting a .198 ISO. Hernandez’ previous career high was 15 home runs, a feat he managed in 708 plate appearances with Philadelphia in 2018. He has managed the trick without incurring additional strikeouts, though his triple-slash has plummeted to a .237/.316/.435 for the season. A hitter who had slashed .273/.348/.389 for his career suddenly hitting for this much power seems to be an indicator of a changed approach, if the power shows up today Hernandez will be underpriced at $4,200 on DraftKings and $3,100 on FanDuel.

Jose Abreu is pulling in an ownership projecting slightly below 6% on DraftKings and nearly four times that mark across town. He is slashing .247/.332/.463 with 21 home runs and a .216 ISO while creating runs 19% ahead of the average this season. He has a 50.3% hard-hit rate that leads the team, and he is inexpensive on FanDuel. The low ownership on the other side of the industry is created by his $6,000 price tag, which is well worth paying to roster this hitter in this spot with positive leverage.

Yoan Moncada hits from both sides of the plate and is projected to land in the cleanup role in the lineup. Moncada has hit just nine home runs this season, but he is creating runs 19% better than average and has a .254/.373/.391 triple slash. His .137 ISO shows the concerning lack of power for a hitter in this position in the lineup, but Moncada has more to offer.


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The first sign of the White Sox returning to health was Eloy Jimenez landing in the lineup two weeks ago. He is a major boost to the team’s power and overall offensive upside. In nine games and 34 plate appearances since his return, Jimenez has hit three home runs and is slashing .273/.294/.667 with a .394 ISO and creating runs 57% better than average. He is a key hitter in this lineup and will be the most popular White Sox bat at over 20% ownership on the DraftKings slate. On FanDuel Jimenez costs just $3,100 and will be owned in more than 35% of lineups, making him difficult to roster ahead of the field.

Luis Robert is at a mistake price on the FanDuel slate. He has been out for months, and the blue site did not price him up for his return, leaving a major bat at the minimum salary. Robert made 103 plate appearances before his injury, slashing .316/.359/.463 with one home run and four stolen bases while creating runs 28% better than average. Robert has astounding upside for the price on FanDuel and is too cheap at $3,400 on DraftKings, where he will be almost as popular as Jimenez.

The back end of the White Sox lineup includes three hitters that are projected for less than 10% ownership on DraftKings and low to mid-teens on FanDuel. It begins with Andrew Vaughn, who has made 350 plate appearances this season and hit 13 home runs with a .196 ISO. He has an excellent 48.9% hard-hit rate and a 10.5% barrel rate. Vaughn is cheap and not excessively popular on both sites.

Brian Goodwin has hit seven home runs and has a .211 ISO while creating runs 17% better than average. He has a .206 ISO for his career, a mark that comes across 1,290 plate appearances with several organizations. Goodwin arguably has lacked a fair opportunity for his talents, his biggest season came in 2019 when he received 458 plate appearances with the Angels. Goodwin responded with a .262/.326/.470 slash, 17 home runs and a WRC+ 7% ahead of the average that season.

Zack Collins lands at under 10% ownership even as part of a popular stack on the DraftKings slate, putting him in play on that site. He is a potential cost and ownership offset play on FanDuel, though he is slashing just .197/.315/.338 with a .140 ISO and four home runs over his 185 plate appearances and has created runs 13% worse than average by WRC+.

HR Call: Brian Goodwin — Chicago White 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 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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