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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 8/02/21

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 9/16.

Monday MLB DFS action brings another slate with a notable lack of premium pitching options. Several teams are showing significant power and production indicators, and there are a number of targetable pitchers on the slate. Rostering safe pitching options and spreading out to a variety of combinations of low-owned upside MLB DFS stacks today should be the angle to take into this fantasy baseball slate.

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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

Arizona Diamondbacks: Asdrubal Cabrera — 6.27

Baltimore Orioles: Anthony Santander — 8.92

Los Angeles Angels: Justin Upton — 7.86

Miami Marlins: Brian Anderson — 5.06

Milwaukee Brewers: Omar Narvaez — 5.82

New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 17.94

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 12.04

Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 15.52

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 7.43

San Francisco Giants: Alex Dickerson — 10.53

Seattle Mariners: Luis Torrens — 7.31

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 5.71

Texas Rangers: David Dahl — 5.10

Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman — 5.79

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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 ownership projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

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On the Hill

The Monday mélange of mound mediocrity has some unusual names trending toward the peak of the Top Pitchers board. Despite not being available as a hitter, Shohei Ohtani will not be pitching until at least Thursday, taking one of the game’s best players off the board entirely for MLB DFS on both sides of the game (DraftKings has announced that Ohtani will be added to the hitter pool when the Angels announce an official pitcher, which will likely be Jose Suarez). Among pitchers actually making starts today, Andrew Heaney will be making his first appearances with the Yankees, taking on the Orioles in the Bronx, while Anthony DeSclafani leads the Giants into the desert to tangle with the Diamondbacks. While those two are less than comfortable to roster on most slates, in this contest they offer a welcome refuge of security. Eric Lauer stands a chance at delivering a handful of MLB DFS points in his matchup against the Pirates, while Tylor Megill draws the Marlins and is near the top on the site’s board. Even options like Dane Dunning and Taylor Widener are in play despite more difficult matchups and low expectations.

The last of the Yankees trade deadline acquisitions, Heaney should give a boost to a pitching staff that is in dire need of help. While he is not an ace-level pitcher, Heaney is a quality strikeout option who should be able to protect the short porch in right field in home games. He has thrown 94 innings in 18 starts this season, pitching to a 3.81 xFIP with a 1.31 WHIP. Heaney has a 28.2% strikeout rate and a 7.7% walk rate, while inducing 13.1% swinging strikes but compiling just a 28.8% CSW. He allows too much premium contact, coming into tonight with a 9.4% barrel rate and a 41.7% hard-hit rate with a 17.3-degree average launch angle. Heaney’s ability to induce swinging strikes and sit hitters down to kill rallies is his saving grace. He is not an entirely safe option, but he is the most likely starter on the slate to put up a big score tonight. He is facing an Orioles team that is decent against left-handed pitching and features a fair amount of right-handed power. On the whole the Orioles active roster has a 3.56% home run rate and a .163 collective ISO, both around the league average in the split. They create runs 5% better than average by WRC+ and they have an eighth-ranked 21.9% strikeout rate against lefties. Heaney will be massively owned on both sites tonight, and he is inexpensive at $8,600 on DraftKings and $7,600 on FanDuel. While he is cheap and the most likely starter to explode for points, Heaney is by no means safe and he becomes an easy point from which to pivot away from a large portion of the field, making an undercut a viable strategy.

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DeSclafani is priced up by comparison to other options on this slate. He costs $8,700 on FanDuel and $9,300 on DraftKings and he is in a good spot against the weak Diamondbacks lineup. Arizona’s active roster has a 24.3% strikeout rate against righties that ranks 12th from the bottom of the league. The Diamondbacks have a collective .127 ISO in the split with just a 2.03% home run rate, they are baseball’s second weakest team for overall power and the home run rate is the worst in the league by a significant margin (the Nationals’ 2.49% is second worst against righties). DeSclafani has a 23.3% strikeout rate over 122 innings in 21 starts this season. He allows a bit too much premium contact, coming into tonight with an 8.6% barrel rate and a 41.3% hard-hit rate, but he is one of the better overall options and his opponents are starving for power. With far lower ownership than Heaney on both sites, DeSclafani makes a fine option for GPP play and an excellent pivot.

Lauer will be pitching at home with the weak Pirates in town. Lauer comes in with a 23.4% strikeout rate, and the Pirates are 12th best in baseball with a 22.3% rate in the split. Pittsburgh is targetable for safety beyond that, however, coming into the contest with just a .124 ISO, a 2.32% home run rate and a collective WRC+ that stands 24% below average against lefties this season. Lauer is not a starter who would be featured in this space on most days. He has a 4.27 xFIP with a 1.29 WHIP and an ugly 9.5% walk rate this season. He induces a 9.8% swinging strike rate and has just a 26.1% CSW, though he has been solid limiting premium contact to just a 30.4% hard-hit rate with a 7.6% barrel rate. Lauer is drawing ownership from the public, but he is not explosively popular and can be rostered, though not with a high degree of confidence.

Megill is likely to be popular on this slate given a matchup against the Marlins and the strong start to his career that MLB DFS gamers have enjoyed. Megill comes into tonight having pitched 35.1 innings in seven starts. He has a 3.89 xFIP with a 27.1% strikeout rate, a 7.6% walk rate and a 1.10 WHIP. He induces an 11% swinging strike rate but has just a 25.7% CSW which is suggestive of additional upside as control and command develop. Megill has just a 3.2% barrel rate, though he has allowed a 39.8% hard-hit rate. The Marlins offer little resistance on the other side of the contest. Miami has a .124 ISO and a 2.58% home run rate against right-handed pitching while striking out 24.7% of the time and creating runs 21% worse than average. There is the suggestion of both upside and safety for Megill in this spot, but the public is all over it. He is likely to be the second most popular pitcher on the slate behind Heaney.

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are in a good spot and are not drawing enough ownership in early projections for DraftKings. On the blue site they are trending into slightly negative leverage territory, though the bulk of the ownership is actually concentrated on just two hitters, Nelson Cruz and Brandon Lowe. The remaining Rays are easy to roster in a matchup against Chris Flexen. He has just a 15.5% strikeout rate over 108.2 innings in 19 starts this season and allows too much contact. However, he also walks a mere 4.9% of hitters, saving him from total disaster. He has a bumpy 4.57 xFIP and a 1.25 WHIP despite the sparkling walk rate, which shows how much trouble he has with contact. He yields hard hits as well, coming in with a 39.1% rate and an 89.4 mph average exit velocity, while giving up a 6.2% barrel rate. Flexen is a targetable starter with an offense of this caliber. In addition to the two popular hitters, MLB DFS lineups should include options like platoon specialist Ji-Man Choi, lefty slugger Austin Meadows, and Randy Arozarena despite the same-handed matchup. Additional Rays from the bottom of the lineup can be included as well, Joey Wendle is a more productive lefty bat than most people realize, while stud prospect Wander Franco hits from both sides of the plate and has quietly crept up to a .250/.305/.408 triple slash with three home runs and two stolen bases in his 131 plate appearances. Mike Zunino is in play any time he is in the lineup. Kevin Kiermaier is likely to see a start in the outfield and is at worst a filler option, though there are better bats to stack in this lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are expensive and drawing nearly no ownership on DraftKings, creating a major positive leverage spot. With a wealth of inexpensive pitching options that profile similarly to higher priced starters, it should be fairly easy to stack Phillies on the site despite the pricing. The FanDuel slate sees a far more popular Phillies team given much more affordable relative pricing. Philadelphia is taking on the Nationals’ new prospect jewel, Josiah Gray, who was one of the primary returns in the mega-trade with the Dodgers. Gray is a highly regarded prospect with one start and eight Major League innings under his belt. Gray has a massive 37.1% strikeout rate in the tiny sample, though he also walked 14.3% of hitters and allowed a ridiculous 23.5% barrel rate with a 41.2% hard-hit rate. None of those marks are stable and they will all normalize given time. Gray had a 38.6% strikeout rate and just a 3.5% walk rate in an additional 15.2 innings over three starts and four appearances in Triple-A this season but was at a more realistic 25.5% over 39.1 Double-A innings in 2019. Ultimately, he is unlikely to see extended innings and he is targetable in spite of the strikeouts. The Nationals bullpen is sixth worst in baseball with a 4.57 xFIP on the season with a 22.8% strikeout rate that is near the bottom of the league. Philadelphia has a 3.34% home run rate that ranks 22nd out of 30 teams. They create runs 11% worse than average and has a .156 ISO with a 23.4% strikeout rate in the split, but they have upside against Gray. However, Philadelphia will likely be without injured Andrew McCutchen.

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Jean Segura is slashing .308/.364/.447 with six home runs and seven stolen bases in the leadoff spot. His individual upside is clear, and he is an excellent correlation piece for MLB DFS purposes given the ability to get on base in front of the power bats. Segura creates runs 19% better than average by WRC+, and he costs just $3,100 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings, making him an excellent buy.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto is slashing .268/.355/.446 with 11 home runs and seven stolen bases this year, making him one of the most productive DFS scoring catchers and the only option who fills out multiple categories this way. Realmuto creates runs 16% better than average and will be owned below the 10% mark on the DraftKings slate. He will be more popular on FanDuel despite not playing a required position.

Bryce Harper comes in with a pitcher price at $6,000 on DraftKings, which is keeping his popularity in single digits. Harper has a significant mark in the home run model in the matchup against Gray. He has hit 16 home runs with a .244 ISO this season. Improving his skills with his hit tool and on-base skills, Harper is slashing .302/.414/.546 across 353 plate appearances this season. He creates runs 55% better than average by WRC+ and is a nearly mandatory piece of Phillies stacks in any situation.

With McCutchen out, Rhys Hoskins is likely to hit fourth, though he has also been dealing with bumps and bruises lately. He slots in at $5,000 on DraftKings, $4,100 on FanDuel and is drawing single digit ownership on both sites. Hoskins has hit 23 home runs and has a .262 ISO while creating runs 21% better than average in his team-leading 419 plate appearances.

Brad Miller comes in at $3,700 on DraftKings and just $2,200 on FanDuel. Miller strikes out too much at 31.7% on the season, but he has a steady hard-hit rate of 48% while barreling the ball in 10.6% of his batted ball events. Miller has hit 10 home runs this season and he has a steady .188 ISO while creating runs 1% behind the curve. Overall he is slashing .229/.321/.417 in his 218 plate appearances. Miller has a wide range of outcomes and is a solid GPP play in Phillies stacks tonight.

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Alec Bohm is slashing .252/.309/.352 over 363 plate appearances but he has hit just seven home runs and has a .100 ISO while creating runs 20% worse than average. Bohm’s talent is quite apparent in his team-leading 50.2% hard-hit rate, a mark that comes in spite of just a 6.2% barrel rate. He is easy to roster and will be low owned for cheap prices across the industry tonight.

Didi Gregorius’ price has dropped to $3,600 on DraftKings and $2,600 on FanDuel as he is slashing .212/.265/.379 this season over 223 plate appearances. Gregorius does have eight home runs and a serviceable .167 ISO in the mid-sized sample, but he is creating runs 30% worse than average for the season.

Odubel Herrera is slashing just .238/.290/.377 with a .138 ISO while creating runs 21% behind the average. While the on-base skills in both Herrera and Gregorius suggest that they have difficulty turning the lineup over, both players do put the ball in play frequently, Herrera has just a 16.7% strikeout rate (Gregorius is at 19.3%) this season though he barrels the ball just 2.8% of the time with a 37.6% hard-hit rate (an ugly 22.6% for Gregorius). The bottom of the Phillies lineup has not been great, but they are not entirely bereft of talent either.

HR Call: Brad Miller — Philadelphia Phillies

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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