With a pair of aces in the pocket and not much else to pitch with, the Thursday MLB DFS slate has very specific lanes of construction for anyone not willing to embrace a little risk. Taking on some of the secondary pitchers on the slate opens up better builds with bats and the most likely stacks, but it also leaves challenging decisions and significant potential opportunity cost. This is an interestingly shaped slate on both sites, so finding the right low-owned, low-cost daily fantasy stacks that allow for differentiation while rostering the apex pitching options is the approach to take, giving strong upside to teams pulling positive leverage on the Top Stacks Tool.
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Tracking the top MLB DFS pitchers will be key, as will monitoring the public ownership distributions on stacks via the Top Stacks Tool. Let’s get into the MLB DFS picks for DraftKings and FanDuel, as well as some home-run candidates for each team.
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 won’t always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star who would be in that spot every day.
Home Run Ratings
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Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great
Arizona Diamondbacks: Carson Kelly — 6.73
Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 8.06
Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson — 9.09
Cincinnati Reds: Jesse Winker — 10.45
Detroit Tigers: Robbie Grossman — 5.21
Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler — 8.75
Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani — 6.34
Miami Marlins: Jesus Aguilar — 6.70
Milwaukee Brewers: Travis Shaw — 10.88
Minnesota Twins: Kyle Garlick — 7.25
New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 5.95
Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 9.16
San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 7.57
San Francisco Giants: Alex Dickerson — 5.77
Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 12.28
St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 12.92
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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. 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
There are two standout pitchers available on today’s slate and they should be rostered heavily. Both Yu Darvish and Lance Lynn are in fantastic matchups, facing the Mets and Tigers respectively. The two aces rank as the top two starters on both sites and they will be the two highest owned options on the board, everyone else pales by comparison. Still, there are viable options, particularly for DraftKings players who will need to find a quality SP2. The Angels’ Griffin Canning has appeal in a good matchup against the Mariners, while Miami’s Elieser Hernandez is returning from injury to face the low-end Pirates lineup, though his innings upside is very much in question. On the other side of that matchup, Pittsburgh’s Tyler Anderson has been a bit better than league average in some important areas, and he faces a Marlins lineup that struggles with strikeouts against left-handed pitching. Adam Wainwright has pitched well this season, but he is in a tough spot against the Reds, making his price tag challenging on both sites.
The Mets are in San Diego to face Yu Darvish, who is looking primed to carve up his opponent once again. New York’s active roster is sixth-best in baseball with just a 22.7% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season, but they have just a .130 team ISO and create runs eight percent worse than average in the split. The Mets have hit just 31 home runs against righties this year, second-worst only to the powerless Pirates. Meanwhile, Darvish has a 30.0% strikeout rate and a 3.83 xFIP with a 0.93 WHIP across his first 11 starts. He has finished 66.2 innings, giving MLB DFS owners relatively reliable depth and a good shot at a win and a quality start in this matchup. Darvish sits in the 88th percentile of hard-hit rate allowed, the 82nd of average exit velocity allowed and the 81st percentile in barrel rate allowed. For $11,500 on FanDuel and $10,700 on DraftKings, Darvish is well-worth the spend on this slate, though it will be challenging to roster him alongside the best available bats, particularly in unique constructions.
Lance Lynn is at full health, giving the White Sox steady innings from the top of the rotation. Lynn missed a little time earlier in the season but has now completed 52.2 innings in just nine starts. Lynn made six starts in May, completing 5.0 innings four times and pitching through 6.0 and 7.0 in the remaining two opportunities. He is a reliable workhorse who has a 26.9% strikeout rate and a 0.93 WHIP with a 3.98 xFIP this year. Lynn has induced a 12.6% swinging strike rate this season and he sits in the 81st percentile in expected slugging percentage against as well as the 90th percentile in expected batting average against. Lynn will be taking on the anemic Tigers offense that sits second-worst in baseball against righties with a 27.1% strikeout rate. As a team, Detroit is carrying a .144 ISO and creates runs 11% worse than average in the split. This is an excellent spot for Lynn, his $11,000 price on FanDuel is doing little to keep ownership at bay, while the $9,700 cost on DraftKings warrants significant attention.
Hernandez makes for an interesting situation. He left his season debut after just 2.1 innings back in early April and is taking his first turn back in the rotation after three minor league rehab starts. He faced 22 hitters over 4.2 innings in his most recent outing, so the assumption should be that he is relatively stretched out and likely to complete at least five frames. He made just six starts in 2020, completing 25.1 innings with a 3.54 xFIP and a 32.1% strikeout rate. He struck out 24.1% of hitters across 82.1 innings — 15 starts and six bullpen appearances — in 2019, showing some consistency of quality in the strikeout department. Hernandez draws a Pirates team that is good at avoiding the strikeout against righties, they rank fourth-best in baseball as a unit, with juts a 22.4% strikeout rate. Beyond that, the Pittsburgh lineup is lousy; they have a .124 ISO, the fewest home runs (27) in the league and create runs 13% worse than average in the split against righties this season. There is upside if Hernandez eats innings at his $7,600 price on DraftKings and $6,800 on FanDuel, but he is a risky MME/GPP only play.
For those willing to embrace risk, Wainwright is an option who is trending to be under-owned for his probability of being one of the best starters on the board. He is in a very difficult matchup, facing a Reds offense that is sixth-best in baseball with a .181 ISO against righties. Cincinnati creates runs nine percent better than average in the split and they lead baseball with 62 home runs against right-handed pitching so far in 2021. Wainwright, for his part, has been crisp to start the season. He has a 22.7% strikeout rate and a 3.95 xFIP over his first 10 starts, completing 59.2 innings. He is inducing just 8.6% swinging strikes but has a 31.5% CSW. The opposing Reds are tied with the Pirates with the same 22.4% strikeout rate, so this is not a spot to expect Wainwright to smash through a ceiling score by fanning more hitters than average, but he has upside when the public is staying away, even at tough pricing and a rough matchup.
The Marlins have gotten back to health and their lineup has been bolstered by the return of several key bats in recent weeks. This is still not a good baseball team, but they are perhaps more capable than they are given credit for, or than their well-earned reputation from recent seasons. The Marlins projected lineup features both power and speed, as well as several professional hitters and a player who could be considered a solid B-level star, in Starling Marte. The primary Marlins to focus on after Marte are the right-handed power bats. Miami is facing southpaw Tyler Anderson who sits in just the 24th percentile in barrel rate allowed and the 30th percentile in expected slugging percentage allowed. Anderson is targetable and the public is behind the curve on the potentially frisky Floridians.
Infielder Jazz Chisholm leads off for the team and is carrying a strong .211 ISO through his first 126 plate appearances this season. He has a strong minor league track record for mid-range power and speed, though he is striking out 34.9% of the time so far in 2021. Chisholm has a .272/.333/.482 slash and is creating runs 28.0% better than average for the season. He missed some time earlier in the year and is yet to return to full price on FanDuel, where he is a strong value at just $3,000 and under 10.0% ownership. By comparison, Chisholm is a $5,300 player at either second base or shortstop on the DraftKings slate, where he is pulling half the ownership as on the blue site, making for a solid pay-up spot.
Marte hits second and carries a $5,300 price of his own on DraftKings. At just $3,500 on FanDuel, he is underpriced. He will be more popular on the FanDuel slate, where he projects as Miami’s most popular player at around 15.0% ownership. Marte has made just 87 plate appearances this season but sits at .319/.425/.542 with three home runs and four stolen bases so far. He has a .222 ISO and has created runs 68.0% better than average in the limited sample this year.
Jesus Aguilar mans first base and will be significantly under-owned for his power upside. Aguilar has hit 10 home runs this season. He owns a career .202 ISO against lefties, creating runs 17.0% better than average in the split over his five full seasons. Aguilar hit 35 home runs in 566 opportunities for the Brewers in 2018, his largest sample and best season by a wide margin. There is clear home run potential against Anderson, Aguilar should be rostered far more than the meager marks he is drawing in ownership projections.
With eligibility at first base and outfield on both sites, Garrett Cooper should be pulling in more popularity for just $4,300 on DraftKings and $2,500 on FanDuel. He has a .260/.333/.416 slash with five home runs and a .156 ISO across 171 plate appearances this season. Cooper’s big year came in 2019; he drew 421 plate appearances as a 28-year-0ld rookie, hitting 15 home runs and putting up a steady .281/.344/.446 with a .165 ISO. He hit for more power with a .217 ISO and six home runs in just 133 opportunities in 2020, playing only 34 games. Now 30, Cooper is looking to get on track for a full season. He has a 28.7% strikeout rate that certainly could be better, but there is power upside in the bat that could emerge in any game, taking a shot against a weak lefty at no ownership has appeal.
Adam Duvall has hit nine home runs in his 179 plate appearances this season. Duvall is carrying a .204 ISO but also a .204 average, completing the back two-thirds of his triple slash with a .251 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. Duvall is paid primarily to hit home runs, not much else. He mashed 16 long balls in just 209 opportunities for Atlanta last season, posting a stellar .295 ISO and creating runs 16.0% better than average despite just a .237/.301/.532 slash. He also has a 5.3% home run rate for his career against southpaws.
Jorge Alfaro costs just $3,500 on DraftKings and is under-owned for a catcher with power upside. He has hit one home run this season, making just 56 plate appearances so far. Alfaro has a .250/.304/.317 with just a .077 ISO, but he has long-awaited power upside with 70-grade raw marks in traditional scouting. In 464 plate appearances in 2019, Alfaro mashed 18 home runs, displaying just some of the full potential. At under 5% ownership where catchers are required, and far less where they are not, Alfaro offers the ability to differentiate already low-owned lineups even further while not sacrificing possible power.
Another underrated — and this time underperforming — bat in the bottom of the order is Isan Diaz. He may or may not start in a same-handed matchup tonight. He has just a .121/.272/.212 triple-slash in his first 81 plate appearances this season, but he profiles as a 20-plus home run hitter in a full season. Diaz hit 26 home runs in 435 AAA plate appearances in 2019, adding another five in 201 tries at the Major League level that year. If he is in the lineup, Diaz is interesting as a late piece for no ownership and minimal investment.
Jon Berti is a less appealing infielder. He slots in at second base and third base on both sites, coming up with a $2,100 FanDuel salary and a $4,100 DraftKings price. Berti has a .165/.276/.278 slash and a .113 ISO in 134 plate appearances this season. He has created runs 35% worse than average so far. He has never hit more than eight home runs in a single professional season at any level and offers only limited offensive abilities. Adding Berti to Miami stacks is an option only for differentiating lineups or playing a few shares of baseball variance when rostering a large number of Marlins stack shares.
HR Call: Daniel Vogelbach — Milwaukee Brewers
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