Sometimes Vegas just knows. We noted increased run totals going into last night’s slate, and the league came through with monster scores across MLB DFS action last night. The Thursday slate is half the size but features several intriguing matchups and should have plenty of opportunity to build unique competitive lineups comprised of highly correlated hitters and quality pitching. The slate does not have the same massive upside for runs, though the Yankees – Twins game has a heavy 10.5-run total on the board, while two other games crack the 9.0 mark. On a six-game slate, that should be more than enough to provide targetable bats in our MLB DFS stacks today on DraftKings and FanDuel.
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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 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
Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 7.78
Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 5.70
Colorado Rockies: C.J. Cron — 6.35
Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 12.27
Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez — 11.13
Miami Marlins: Jesus Aguilar — 6.49
Minnesota Twins: Alex Kirilloff — 6.98
New York Yankees: Gary Sanchez — 9.30
Oakland Athletics: Matt Chapman — 10.06
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt — 8.28
Toronto Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez — 3.91
Washington Nationals: Kyle Schwarber — 9.76
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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
Thursday’s pitching slate has a number of recognizable names on various current career trajectories. There is an obvious peak in projections in the form of ace Max Scherzer, who is in an interesting matchup against the Giants, while Miami’s Trevor Rogers is in a plus spot at home against the Rockies. Mike Minor and Frankie Montas will duel one another in Oakland, while lefty Hyun-jin Ryu is in a tricky spot against the White Sox and fellow southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez draws an even bigger challenge in the Astros.
Scherzer is the slate leader on both sites on the Top Pitchers Tool, which should surprise no one. He has been right on pace, striking out 36.1% of hitters over his first 77.0 innings in 12 starts. Scherzer provides major upside and reliable depth in his starts. He has just a 5.2% walk rate and is pitching to a 3.06 xFIP and 0.82 WHIP this season. He sits in the 66th percentile in hard hit rate and the 69th percentile in expected slugging percentage against, while landing in the 94th percentile in strikeout rate. Scherzer is an ace by any measure. The opposing Giants have hit well for power against right-handed pitching this season, tuning up a .188 team ISO that is tied with the Red Sox for second best in baseball. The active roster has hit 63 home runs, fourth in baseball, and they have created runs 4% better than average in the split this year. The one negative for the Giants is a major plus for Scherzer: The team is second worst in baseball with a 26.8% strikeout rate against righties this season. That mark is an outlier; back to the start of the 2019 season, the Giants’ current active roster has just a 22.5% strikeout rate in the split, a number that has dropped with this year’s struggles but still sits top-10 in baseball in the sample. Scherzer is by far the most likely starter to put up a big score tonight, but the Giants bats are not a pushover, and he will be challenged; MLB DFS gamers will simply have to trust that he will rise to the occasion.
Miami’s young Trevor Rogers has been excellent through his first 12 starts this season. Rogers has a 3.44 xFIP and a 1.09 WHIP with a 29.7% strikeout rate. He induces 14.6% swinging strikes and has a strong 30.6% CSW while walking 8.8% of opposing hitters. He is in the 88th percentile of barrel rate allowed, the 84th of expected slugging percentage against and the 69th percentile in chase rate, fantastic marks across the board. Rogers features a basic fastball-slider-changeup mix, throwing all three pitches effectively to limit power and induce swinging strikes. He is facing a Rockies team that is about league average against left-handed pitching this year. Colorado strikes out 23.3% of the time against lefties, they have a .168 team ISO and have created runs 1% better than average in the split. The Rockies may also get All-Star shortstop Trevor Story back in the lineup tonight, which would provide an obvious and immediate boost to their abilities. Still, Rogers has been dealing all season and should have a strong chance of overcoming what remains a weak overall lineup.
The Royals have gotten a lot out of Minor this season. He has a 4.08 xFIP and a 1.21 WHIP and is striking out 26.1% of hitters across his first 67.0 innings in 12 starts. Minor has a 28.2% CSW and induces 10.6% swinging strikes, both marks slightly down from last season, but in range of career averages. He sits in the 73rd percentile in hard hit rate yielded and the 58th in average exit velocity allowed, but concerningly just the 28th percentile in barrel rate and 34th in expected slugging percentage against. Minor faces an Athletics squad that hits lefties with authority. The A’s are seventh best in baseball with a .187 ISO in the split and they create runs 15% better than average. Oakland has hit 28 home runs against lefties so far in 2021, tied with the Dodgers for third most in baseball in the split. Oakland’s strikeouts are somewhat exaggerated in general perception as well. The team is at a current-year mark of 24.1% so far, 0.1% above a three-way tie at the exact middle of the league. This is not a safe spot for Minor and the contact numbers are cause for concern. He still projects well relative to the other options on the slate, and he is on the board in terms of probability of success, but if his ownership trends further into negative leverage territory this could make for a sharp and easy pivot point.
Toronto’s Ryu is seemingly in a down season on the roller coaster that is his strikeout rate. Ryu has a career average of 22.4% in the Majors, but last year he was at 26.2% and he hit 27.5% in 2018. In 2019 he was at 22.5% and he reached only 21.4% in 2017. This being an odd-numbered year, Ryu is sitting at 22.8% across his first 64.0 innings in 11 starts. Velocity is not important to a soft-tossing crafty lefty like Ryu, but spin rate is; it appears that Ryu has lost a bit of his edge in spin rate, not dramatically, but enough across the main pitches in his repertoire that it makes a noticeable difference in swing and miss. He is actually throwing more strikes overall than he did last season, he has a 28.9% CSW compared to just a 26.0% mark last year and a 28.1% the year before, accomplishing the feat by hitting an 18.6% called strike mark so far; he is simply not finishing off hitters. Ryu is in the 49th percentile of barrel rate allowed and the 48th of expected slugging percentage. The first third of his 2021 has been on the fence in terms of quality, it would not take much to nudge him over the edge into a bad season. Still, he is in the 81st percentile in chase rate and the 65th in hard hit rate, so there are rays of sunshine among the clouds. Ryu is facing a White Sox team that lands 10th worst in baseball with a 24.9% strikeout rate against lefties this season but does everything else well in the split. Chicago creates runs 26% better than average against lefties so far, good for second in the league behind the Astros (who are also facing a lefty in Eduardo Rodriguez). The White Sox have a .189 collective ISO in the split, though they are only in the middle of the league with 20 home runs against southpaws. This is a tricky spot on all sides, if Ryu can maintain throughout there are a few bonus strikeouts in this lineup for him. He will be under-owned for his probability of success, making him a GPP consideration that carries a fair amount of risk, but could also reap great rewards.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are the leading team on the Top Stacks Tool by a very wide margin this morning. New York is in Minnesota once again, this time facing J.A. Happ, a veteran lefty whose best hope for not taking a loss tonight may involve a Freaky Friday style body-switching with the Cubs’ Ian Happ prior to first pitch. He has an ugly 5.43 xFIP and a 1.32 WHIP across 10 starts in which he has completed just 51.1 innings. Happ is striking out just 16.8% of hitters and induces only 7.3% swinging strikes and a 22.3% CSW. The Yankees have a reputation for swing-and-miss, but they are also a lineup comprised of a number of highly discerning hitters; numerous Yankees do not unload on a pitch unless they can drive it, something which a pitcher like Happ will struggle with. New York is in the middle of baseball with a 23.9% strikeout rate against lefties this season and they have created runs 4% behind the average, but they have 26 home runs in the split, a 3.99% rate that is good for 10th best in baseball this year. The Yankees will be the chalkiest team of the day, but getting to them in combinations with lower-owned stacks and/or pitching appears to be a somewhat likely path toward the top of standings, though the Astros are in a great spot against a lefty, and they are throwing Zack Greinke against the opposing Red Sox in what could be a slugfest.
As has been mentioned several times, the Astros are facing southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez tonight. He has been effective but not without his concerns through the first third of the season. Rodriguez has a 26.1% strikeout rate and a 3.24 xFIP on the season, but a bumpy 1.41 WHIP so far. He is inducing just 9.8% swinging strikes and a 28.0% CSW. Rodriguez sits in the 74th percentile in hard hit rate and the 68th percentile in average exit velocity allowed but the 52nd in barrel rate and just the 45th of chase rate. He could be in a pickle, despite his early season form. The Astros active roster specializes in creating runs against southpaws. Houston sits atop the league with a mere 16.5% strikeout rate in the split this season, a trend that continues back over time. The Astros are also league-leading in creating runs 28.0% better than average and tops in total home runs with 31 in the split. They have an above average .171 ISO that does not properly align with the home run total until accounting for volume. Houston has faced a league-leading number of lefties, which is a nice gift from their opponents, considering the quality. Astros hitters have seen 873 at bats (976 plate appearances) against lefties this season. Viewed through this prism, their 31 home runs become a 3.55% home run rate, ranking just 20th in baseball. Still, the lineup has simply not needed to hit home runs to create runs this year, they make a strong option that is not drawing enough public ownership as a stack on this slate.
Jose Altuve has a strong .293/.363/.466 triple slash to start the year, which he has paired with a .173 ISO and 10 home runs in his 237 plate appearances. Altuve has created runs 34.0% better than average this year and added two stolen bases, announcing that he is fully back to form after struggling through the abbreviated 2020. He will be dramatically under-owned on the blue site, where he is the most expensive Astros bat by a full $600. On DraftKings, Altuve is more reasonably priced at $4,600, but he will be more heavily owned for it.
Carlos Correa is projected to hit second and is pulling in under 10.0% ownership on both sites in afternoon projections. He has been outstanding this season, back to his old form in hitting 11 home runs in 256 plate appearances. Correa is slashing .290/.375/.500 and has a .210 ISO while creating runs 47.0% better than average this season. This is an excellent option at the position and in stacks, he should be rostered regularly in all formats across all sites tonight.
Third baseman Alex Bregman has created runs 40.0% better than average this season, though he has perhaps been doing so a bit more quietly than normally seen. Bregman has hit just seven home runs and has only a .169 ISO on the year but has been bolstered both by his steady .295/.384/.464 slash and the fact that the two hitters ahead of him are also constantly on base. Bregman is a fine option, though the public is on him on both sites. He is at entirely different price points, coming in as a $5,000 option on DraftKings but just $3,600 on FanDuel, despite the discrepancy he is projected for similar high-teens ownership on both sites.
Yordan Alvarez has hit eight home runs in his 204 plate appearances and adds a .299/.348/.513 to the list of stellar hitters atop this lineup. Alvarez has created runs 41% better than average this season and has a .214 ISO, hitting everything hard. He sits in the 76th percentile in hard hit rate and 83rd percentile in barrel rate this season, with an 87th percentile expected slugging percentage. This is an excellent young hitter who is underpriced by a significant amount at just $3,700 on DraftKings and $3,330 on FanDuel. Alvarez appears to be getting a discount for a lefty-lefty matchup that does not impact him. For his career so far, he has a .309/.398/.615 slash with an outrageous .306 ISO against righties but is still one of the best hitters in the league at .304/.374/.585 with a .280 ISO against same-handed pitching. Alvarez creates runs 58.0% better than average in the split, it is absurd to skip him for platoon reasons.
MLB DFS players seem to dislike Yuli Gurriel and it is difficult to figure out why. He is never as popular as the rest of his teammates in ownership projections or actual exposures, despite being perhaps the best overall hitter on the team. Gurriel has a stellar .335/.406/.534 on the season with a .199 ISO and eight home runs in his 239 plate appearances. He has created runs 63.0% better than average, leading the team and sitting fifth best among qualified hitters in all of baseball. Despite all of that obvious quality, Gurriel costs a mere $3,400 on FanDuel and $4,000 on DraftKings and is projecting for around 5% ownership. This is one of the best hitting spots to roster on the entire slate.
Michael Brantley takes a dip in quality in same-handed matchups, more so than the other lefties in the Astros projected lineup. Brantley has a .276/.331/.378 slash with just a .102 ISO, creating runs 5% worse than average for his career against fellow southpaws. Against righties, he is outstanding, coming in at .307/.365/.470 with a .163 ISO and creating runs 28% better than average for his career. Brantley is in play if he is in the lineup, particularly if following the through-line that the Astros’ overall quality may chase Rodriguez early. He costs just $2,500 on FanDuel and $3,300 on DraftKings, a logical price-down for the matchup, but one that can help with reaching some of the higher priced members of this lineup.
Young Kyle Tucker also hits from the left side of the plate and mans the outfield for the Astros. He is priced down at $3,200 on DraftKings and comes in at the same sticker price on FanDuel. Tucker has had a strong season, hitting 11 home runs in his 248 plate appearances and slashing .261/.324/.482 with a .221 ISO. He creates runs 24.0% better than average overall and he maintains his quality against same-handed pitching, posting a .206 ISO and creating runs 4% better than average in the split.
At the bottom of the lineup, Martin Maldonado provides easy filler as a $2,200 catcher on DraftKings and can be used to offset salary or popularity – albeit with minimal upside – on the FanDuel slate. Maldonado has just a .166/.250/.278 slash over his first 168 plate appearances this season, hitting four home runs and creating runs 44% worse than average. He is not a major source of upside. Similarly, Myles Straw provides only speed and the ability to swipe an infrequent base. Straw is slashing just .245/.320/.296 and creating runs 18.0% worse than average. He does not get on base nearly enough to take advantage of his blazing fast wheels and his hit tool is quite lacking. For someone bereft of power, these are red flags for MLB DFS purposes. Straw can have the oddball upside game, but they are few and far between, he is not much more than a wild dart throw on tonight’s slate, but he can be included primarily as a cheap wraparound option.
HR Call: Yordan Alvarez — Houston Astros
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