The short six-game Thursday slate comes up very light on pitching options, with scant few premium aces on the table and a weak mid-range. The slate seems destined to angle toward bats, a situation reflected by a Vegas board that shows nothing but run totals of nine or more. With a few teams listed as heavy favorites and pulling in large implied run totals, the field is likely to flock toward many of the same spots, concentrating ownership on similar plays and common constructions that should be easy to pivot away from. On both DraftKings and FanDuel a few key stacks and at least minimally intriguing pitchers are going undervalued, making this a fun slate for GPP play.
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.
Home Run Ratings
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Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great
Atlanta Braves: Jorge Soler — 12.84
Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 5.47
Cincinnati Reds: Jesse Winker — 14.48
Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 19.73
Houston Astros: Yuli Gurriel — 11.66
Kansas City Royals: Carlos Santana — 7.24
Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 5.99
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 10.96
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco — 6.03
Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 12.42
St. Louis Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt — 12.89
Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Semien — 12.01
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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. Ensure to check out the ownership projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.
On the Hill
The Thursday pitching slate is extremely thin on quality. With Sonny Gray and Framber Valdez available, MLB DFS owners have at least two reliable professional pitchers to roster. Typically Dallas Keuchel is not a great option for DFS purposes, given his near total lack of strikeout ability, but he is in play on this slate. The Top Pitchers tool includes some less than familiar names near the top, among them Nestor Cortes and Touki Touissant offer interesting upside possibility at relatively low pricing, while Ross Stripling and Tyler Anderson provide at least veteran expertise on the mound, though Anderson is in the Bronx facing the Yankees.
Gray is probably the slate’s most talented pitcher, and he is in the best spot on the board, taking on the Pirates. He costs $9,300 on both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight, and he is drawing a significant level of ownership on both sites. Gray has thrown 76 innings in 15 starts, racking up a 29% strikeout rate and a 3.33 xFIP while inducing 11% swinging strikes, walking 8.8% and generating a 31% CSW. Gray has just a 5.4% barrel rate with 86.8 mph average exit velocity and a 32.2% hard-hit rate. Against a Pirates team that struggles for power that can be a major plus on a slate of this size, Gray only needs to get through this start cleanly. The Pirates active roster has a .135 ISO and a 2.70% home run rate against righties this season, creating runs 19% worse than average, though they limit strikeouts to just 22.3% in the split. Gray is the most likely pitcher to put up a necessary score on this slate on both sites.
Valdez is excellent at limiting opposing contact and home run upside, which takes the Twins’ primary weapon away from their offense. Valdez allows just a 4.4% barrel rate with a -6.4-degree average launch angle, though he yields a 42.9% hard-hit rate. Valdez has been at a 70% ground ball rate through the entire season, currently sitting at 71.3%. Valdez is striking out 21.5% of hitters this season, down from the 26.4% rate that he posted over 70.2 innings in 2019. He has upside against a Twins team that has a 23.5% average strikeout rate in the projected lineup and an active roster strikeout rate of 24% against lefties this season. The Twins have a 4.02% home run rate and a .176 collective ISO in the split, they are a dangerous team for power against typical lefties, but Valdez should have little trouble limiting that aspect of their game and the team is already 5% below average creating runs against lefties. For $9,900 and $9,700 across DraftKings and FanDuel respectively, Valdez is coming in lower owned than Gray while carrying similar upside and safety.
Toussaint is a well-regarded prospect who has thrown 17 innings and made three starts this season. He has a 28.2% strikeout rate, a 5.6% walk rate and a 13.7% swinging strike rate, excellent marks for a young pitcher. Toussaint has a 3.02 xFIP and a 1.06 WHIP though he has allowed an 8.9% barrel rate and a massive 51.1% hard-hit rate when batters make contact, rendering him risky against a Cardinals team that has a number of quality power hitters. However, the Cardinals offense sits at a .154 collective ISO and a 3.41% home run rate against righties that are both around the middle of the league, while creating runs 10% worse than average in the split. They are good at avoiding strikeouts against right-handed pitching, however. The active roster has a 22.1% rate in the split and their projected lineup has just a 20.4% rate overall. Toussaint is inexpensive at $7,400 on DraftKings where he is drawing nearly 30% ownership, which could be an uncomfortable number at which to join the field. He is more expensive on the FanDuel slate, but his ownership craters into the single digit range, which could lend some GPP appeal.
Cortes has been pitching over his head in three starts this season. He has completed 32.2 innings and has a 30.5% strikeout rate with a 7.8% walk rate. He has compiled a 3.59 xFIP with a 0.95 WHIP and a 3.8% barrel rate, though he induces just a 9.5% swinging strike rate and has a 26.4% CSW. Cortes yields just a 32.1% hard-hit rate and 86.6 mph average exit velocity, but the 21.5-degree average launch angle does not allow for mistakes when pitching in Yankee Stadium. Cortes is facing a Mariners team that hits home runs off of left-handed pitching but is below average overall. The Mariners’ 4.17% home run rate in the split stands seventh best in baseball but they have just an average .168 collective ISO and create runs 8% below average against southpaws. The standout statistic is the team’s second-worst 26.8% strikeout rate against lefties, suggesting potential for upside for Cortes if he is able to get through six innings unscathed. He will be popular for $7,900 on the DraftKings slate, and he is drawing significant attention on the blue site, which has him inexplicably priced at $5,500. His popularity on FanDuel stretches credulity, it is nearly double his probability of being the top starter and will lead into common roster constructions that feature the same expensive bats.
The Astros will be extremely popular on both sites tonight. On DraftKings, they border on unplayable territory, given the intense concentration of ownership across the entire lineup. Houston is underpriced on the site, which is also true across town on FanDuel where they are pulling slightly lower ownership. Houston is matched up against rookie Griffin Jax who has thrown 26.2 innings and made three starts this season, putting together a limited 19% strikeout rate with an ugly 9.5% walk rate and a 10.8% barrel rate, making him extremely targetable for sequential hitting and run creation. He has also yielded a 23.7-degree average launch angle and 44.6% hard-hit rate that profile extremely well for home run upside. Jax struggles to throw strikes and get hitters out, there are numerous paths to success for one of the best lineups in baseball. If opportunities open within the lineup, individual Astros are worthy of one-off consideration. Yuli Gurriel is a prime example of a core hitter in the Astros lineup. The obvious go-to options in the lineup include Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker, while Aledmys Diaz and Chas McCormick round out the projected lineup and can provide minimal salary and popularity offsets.
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The Braves are one of the few teams with positive leverage on both sites on today’s small slate. Atlanta responded to the loss of their superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. by bringing in several extreme power hitters at the trade deadline, reshaping their roster and keeping them in play for real baseball and MLB DFS purposes. The lineup features power from top to bottom, and there are quality hitters throughout, making them a frequent option for stacking purposes. Atlanta will be in St. Louis to face lefty Wade LeBlanc on this slate. LeBlanc has thrown 41 innings this season and he has a 14.4% strikeout rate with a 6.9% walk rate and an 8.3% barrel rate, adding up to a targetable pitcher for runs and sequencing. He has an ugly 5.35 xFIP in the small sample with a 1.54 WHIP and lacks the ability to get himself out of jams. LeBlanc has a .464 expected slugging percentage against that lands in the 14th percentile.
Ozzie Albies leads off for the Braves projected lineup. He has hit 17 home runs and stolen 13 bases, slashing .261/.320/.481 with a .220 ISO while creating runs 11% ahead of the average by WRC+. Albies is an excellent hitter who strikes out just 17.4% of the time, though his 7.6% walk rate could improve and help push his on-base skills and run creation potential. Albies hit 24 home runs in both 2018 and 2019, stealing 14 bases and 15 bases. He has exceeded most of his career numbers across the board this season, and he should be rostered frequently in Braves stacks on this slate.
Jorge Soler was brought in at the deadline and is likely to land in the No. 2 spot in the Braves lineup. Soler is slashing .201/.294/.389 with a .188 ISO and 15 home runs in 377 plate appearances, creating runs 14% below average so far. He has been rounding into form for the season, however. Nine of his 15 home runs have come since July 9th, and he is in a far better situation in the Braves lineup than he was with Kansas City. For just $3,300 on FanDuel and DraftKings, Soler should be rostered regularly, though he is the most popular Braves hitter.
Freddie Freeman has hit 24 home runs this season and is slashing .289/.392/.504 with a .214 ISO while creating runs 36% ahead of the average. He strikes out just 16.9% of the time and walks 14% while barreling the ball 12.1% of the time with a 49.2% hard-hit rate.
Austin Riley has hit 22 home runs and has a .227 ISO with a WRC+ 35% ahead of the curve this season. He is slashing .290/.372/.517 this season, delivering more than expected with the hit tool, which is happening in spite of a 24.4% strikeout rate. Riley has a 12.2% barrel rate and a 46% hard-hit rate. For just $3,500 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings, Riley is highly playable, more so on the blue site where his ownership remains in the single digits.
Dansby Swanson has a 46.1% hard-hit rate and an 11.9% barrel rate that play well at his position. He has translated the contact to 20 home runs and a .218 ISO so far this season, slashing .252/.306/.471 while creating runs 3% ahead of the average. Swanson slots into a premium position at an affordable price, which makes him interesting on every slate.
Adam Duvall has hit 23 home runs and has a .244 ISO this season, though he is much more an all-or-nothing option than some of his teammates. He strikes out at a 30.9% rate and walks just 6.4% of the time, slashing .226/.276/.470 and creating runs just 1% ahead of the average. Duvall is in the lineup and in stacks for his home run upside and that alone, which is worth the minimal cost at low ownership.
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If Joc Pederson is in the lineup, it will likely be late with a lefty on the mound. Pederson is slashing .251/.315/.433 for the season with 13 home runs and a .183 ISO. As featured in this space recently, Pederson has been unexpectedly good against same-handed pitching this year. In 87 plate appearances against lefties he is slashing .304/.368/.405 but has just a .101 ISO and one home run in the split but is creating runs 13% ahead of the average. Pederson has a .209 ISO in this split that shows a stark difference in power upside. He is more of a mix-in with a lefty on the mound, but he is not without upside and there will be limited public exposure, making him a quality late lineup GPP play. Guillermo Heredia is slashing .240/.320/.388 with a .148 ISO and four home runs in 281 plate appearances this season and is just a replacement player.
Kevan Smith is fine as a mix-in where catchers are required, and he only costs $2,100. For the same price across town, Smith is not at a mandatory position and is a limited play, though only 1% of the field will roster him. Smith has a .180/.263/.213 triple slash with no home runs and a .034 ISO in 100 plate appearances this year.
HR Call: Bobby Bradley — Cleveland
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