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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 6/26/21

Terry McBride



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A chopped-up MLB DFS Saturday has games in all corners, with FanDuel and DraftKings taking different approaches to the afternoon while rejoining for the four-game main slate in the evening. FanDuel has a six-game afternoon slate, while the 4 pm games are included in the larger early slate on DraftKings but also appear in a separate late afternoon slate. This article focuses on the Main Slate, but the home run picks and power index include the 4 pm slate to provide as much relevant information as possible without confusing things crossing slates in the strategy section. The Main Slate is short on premium pitching options. Even the most talented starters carry significant question marks, making for an offensively loaded affair that will be interesting to attack. Getting to unique combinations of stacks from lower-owned portions of good lineups is an interesting approach to roster construction on both DraftKings and FanDuel for MLB DFS today.

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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 in that spot every day.

Be sure to catch the MLB DFS Live Before Lock, where we will review all of the games, emphasizing finding the best stacks and top picks for DraftKings and FanDuel fantasy baseball lineups.

Home Run Ratings

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Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great

Arizona Diamondbacks: Eduardo Escobar — 4.04

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 6.00

Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts — 7.41

Chicago Cubs: Patrick Wisdom — 8.04

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos — 4.40

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 8.85

Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler — 7.54

Los Angeles Angels: Justin Upton — 14.20

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger — 13.43

Miami Marlins: Adam Duvall — 11.45

Milwaukee Brewers: Avisail Garcia — 5.64

New York Mets: Michael Conforto — 9.08

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 7.66

Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson — 12.60

Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper — 5.88

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado — 10.77

San Francisco Giants: Alex Dickerson — 7.70

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 6.38

Texas Rangers: Adolis Garcia — 1.46

Washington Nationals: Kyle Schwarber — 18.03

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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.

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 short pitching slate is lacking for a premium option, a fact that is clear when we see similar probabilities of being the top starter for nearly every available option on the Top Pitchers Tool. It is simply a pick ’em slate. On talent and form, Julio Urias seems to be the clear best option on the shaky slate, but he will not be safe against a Cubs team that is loaded with power. Frankie Montas has strikeout upside in his matchup with the Giants, but they have brutalized pitchers of both hands for power and run creation throughout the season. Alex Wood is in play against the Athletics, though it is not a strong spot. Dinelson Lamet would be an obvious premium bet against the Diamondbacks, were we able to forecast his innings reliably; given the potential cap, he only ranks in the mid-range, though he comes at a discounted salary for the potentially short start on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Neither pitcher in the Yankees – Red Sox game has much appeal, though either could connect for a good enough day at price and given the available options. Meanwhile, even Merrill Kelly is drawing some reasonable probability of success despite a matchup against the Padres, though rostering him would be a largely price-driven decision.

Urias has completed 88.0 innings in his 15 starts, pitching to a 3.53 xFIP and a 1.07 WHIP this season. He has induced a 12.9% swinging-strike rate and has a solid 31.4% CSW% while walking just 4.8% of hitters, roughly half his career average. The lefty is in the midst of a clear breakout season, but there are some concerns around underlying contact metrics. Urias sits in just the 48th percentile in barrel rate and the 36th percentile in expected slugging percentage against. The southpaw has made up for it with an 89th percentile hard-hit rate and 82nd percentile average exit velocity against so far, suggesting that hitters are not making good contact even when they get the sweet spot on the ball, a fact enforced by his 93rd percentile chase rate, he simply gets hitters off balance and forces them to swing at less hittable pitches. Urias gives up a 14.9-degree average launch angle which is a concern if he misses his spot and that barrel rate kicks in. The opposing Cubs lineup strikes out at a 24.8% rate against lefties, eighth-worst in baseball, but they have a 4.27% home run rate in the split that is among the league-leading marks, they create runs six percent ahead of the average by WRC+, and they have a .174 team ISO in the split. Urias is the most likely pitcher to put up a quality score on this slate, and there is strikeout upside in the matchup; however, there is also danger lurking in the Cubs’ premium power. Urias is basically mandatory for multi-entry play, but he is not safe. Getting above or below the field on him will be a major decision, and his performance will likely be a critical inflection point for tonight’s slate. At worst, he seems appropriately owned by the field on FanDuel, and perhaps under-owned on DraftKings.

Montas is running into a buzz-saw of a Giants offense. San Francisco’s active roster is second-best in baseball with a 4.38% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season. They create runs 11.0% better than average and have a league-leading .196 team ISO in the split. The Giants do strike out at a high rate against righties this season. Their 26.0% ranks fourth-worst in baseball, so there is tangible upside for Montas, but he is a wobbly tightrope walk on this slate. Montas has a 24.0% strikeout rate over his 82.2 innings in 15 starts. He has a bumpy 1.35 WHIP despite walking just 5.8% of hitters. With a 12.0% swinging strike rate induced, it would be reasonable to expect better than just a 27.4% CSW% for the pitcher. Montas has underperformed in throwing called strikes and allows too much quality contact when working in the zone. Montas is in just the 16th percentile in hard-hit rate allowed, the 24th in average exit velocity against, the 19th in barrel rate, and the 19th in expected slugging percentage against. This is not a good profile for a team that hits for as much power as the Giants have shown this season, though it would certainly also not be a total surprise to see Montas put up a slate-leading pitching score.

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Lamet’s primary concern is the average depth of start. The Padres’ careful management of their precious pitching asset has been frustrating for MLB DFS purposes this season. It is difficult to roster the massive strikeout upside that Lamet brings to the table. It has not helped matters that the righty has been at just a 27.2% strikeout rate when he has been on the mound. Make no mistake, that is an effective above-average number, but it is not the Lamet that MLB DFS players wish they could get to know better. That version of Lamet had a 34.8% strikeout rate last year and a 33.5% mark the year before. With the performance down somewhat and the innings a major question, sites have priced Lamet appropriately. He costs just $7,500 on FanDuel and $7,300 on DraftKings and should be playable on both sites. If he sees 85 pitches and approaches his true form, Lamet could easily deliver value at those prices. He is taking on a Diamondbacks team that ranks in the middle of baseball in the split, with a 24.5% strikeout rate but has just a .129 team ISO against right-handed pitching. The Snakes create runs 18.0% worse than average against righties and have just a 2.30% home run rate in the split. This is not a good offense.

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New York Yankees

The Yankees are the top team on the Top Stacks Tool on both DraftKings and FanDuel for tonight’s Main Slate. They are in Boston, taking on the Red Sox and right-handed starter Nathan Eovaldi. The former Yankee has been a league-average pitcher this season, stitching together a 3.66 xFIP with a 22.1% strikeout rate and a 1.27 WHIP across 83.0 innings in his first 15 starts of the year. Eovaldi induces a 12.0% swinging strike rate but has just a 28.5% CSW%. He has limited premium contact and barreled balls so far this season and has a strong 5.4% walk rate. Still, there is potential upside for the Yankees, and they are under-owned as a team for their probability of being the top stack. For all their flaws with sequential hitting, the Yankees lineup is still loaded with power, their 3.86% home run rate against righties ranks 10th in baseball, and they create runs three percent better than the average, though their 24.7% strikeout rate is slightly below average and their .159 team ISO in the split is in the middle of the league. There is no arguing that this team has underperformed their talent level.

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[osBestBetsSingleGameOdds league=”mlb” date=”06/26/2021″ team=”yankees”]

DJ LeMahieu is a prime suspect in the lack of production for this offense. The infielder has been one of baseball’s very best hitters over the past few seasons, but this year he has slumped to a .261/.337/.359 triple-slash, following the grand tradition of Yankees who underperform after getting paid. LeMahieu is possibly the league’s most likely rebound candidate in the second half of the season. It simply defies everything we know about the hitter to think that his slump will continue. He is already showing signs of coming around in recent weeks. Leading off at a fair price and low (for this slate) ownership, LeMahieu makes a solid point to begin a Yankees stack.

Aaron Judge has largely lived up to expectations throughout 2021, perhaps the one Yankees hitter to not disappoint. The Herculean right fielder has a .282/.379/.506 slash with a .224 ISO and has created runs 44.0% better than average. Judge has hit 16 home runs this season and has returned to his excellent walk rate of years past, coming in at 13.3% after struggling at just 8.8% over his wonky 114 plate appearance season in 2020. Judge is a premium bat on any slate, he will be popular on both sites, but he should be included in most Yankees builds.

Gary Sanchez is in the three spot in one of the projected lineups, which shows either how far he has come around after his greatly overblown struggles or how desperate the team is for production from this lineup. For the season, Sanchez is up to a .237/.343/.495 slash, improving his performance with the hit tool significantly from his sub-Mendoza troubles. The power never left, but the hitter is making contact more frequently and taking advantage of his massive pop and excellent home run swing. Sanchez has 13 long balls in just 216 plate appearances this season, with an excellent .258 ISO. He has created runs 28.0% better than average, and he will be under-owned on FanDuel, where he costs just $3,200. Catchers are required on DraftKings, where things make sense, so Sanchez will be owned, but probably not quite enough for the upside and the affordable $4,600 price.

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Giancarlo Stanton lives atop the league’s quality contact board. Stanton is in the 100th percentile in hard-hit rate, the 100th percentile in average exit velocity, and the 100th percentile in maximum exit velocity. Everything he hits is the hardest hit version of that hit. He has a 95th percentile barrel rate of 16.4% and an 83rd percentile expected slugging percentage. Stanton is slashing .272/.362/.500 for the season, with 13 home runs and a .228 ISO over his 232 plate appearances. He needs to stay in the lineup for extended stretches to produce, but there is monster upside in the outfielder’s bat on any slate. Stanton costs just $3,700 on FanDuel but $5,700 on DraftKings, keeping ownership low on the latter site, where he is a stronger play. He should not be excluded from stacks on the blue site. However, he is a premium bat.

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Our Awesemo MLB DFS Top Pitchers Tool gives you the probabilities that each pitcher will be one of the highest-scoring options of the night. On DraftKings where you get two pitchers, we give the odds of a pitcher being one of the Top 2. The top pitcher percentage is defined as overall points and the value by top points per dollar, according to their respective salaries.

First baseman Luke Voit is a mere $2,600 on FanDuel and $4,800 on DraftKings. This year, the slugger has made just 68 plate appearances, hitting three home runs and stringing together a .230/.309/.410 slash. Voit led baseball with 22 home runs in his 234 plate appearances in the short 2020 season, there is obvious power upside, but he is striking out at a 32.4% rate so far this season, lending to the notion that he is more the 27.8% strikeout hitter who had 21 home runs in 510 plate appearances in 2019 than he is last season’s Yankees hero who only struck out 23.1% of the time. Voit is likely an overrated hitter both in the minds of MLB DFS players and Yankees fans, but there is upside in any given slate sense.

Gio Urshela is slashing .276/319/.447 with a .171 ISO and creating runs 11.0% better than average for the season. He has overperformed like that throughout his tenure with the Yankees and is in line for a productive MLB DFS performance for the price. Urshela costs a mere $2,900 at third base on FanDuel and comes in at $3,500 on DraftKings. He will be one of the least popular Yankees hitters on both sites. The infielder is still coming up short of replicating the breakout 2019 performance he put up in his first full year in the Bronx, though with a big dip in power. That season the righty hit 21 home runs in 476 plate appearances while slashing .314/.355/.534. While the home runs are on pace, the triple-slash is clearly behind, and Urshela has a concerning .171 ISO this year, compared to a robust .219 that season.

Gleyber Torres has had a major power outage over the past 18 months. Torres hit 38 home runs in 604 plate appearances in his sophomore season in 2019 and seemed on his way to stardom. Since that season, he has completely collapsed as a power hitter and run creator. Torres is 15.0% below average this season by WRC+. He has just a .076 ISO and is slashing .242/.326/.318 with three home runs in 268 plate appearances. He had the same total number of home runs in all of last season, though that came in a now less concerning 160 plate appearances. Torres still walks at an 11.2% rate and only strikes out at a 20.1% rate this year, saving graces in an otherwise lousy season at the dish. Torres seems to have changed his swing plane. He is barreling the ball just 4.9% of the time. Last season, that mark was a mere 3.7%, so he has slightly improved, but in his massive 2019 season, he was at a sharp 10.1% barrel rate. His average launch angle that season was a robust 17.7 degrees, excellent for a home run hitter. That mark has fallen to 14 degrees, leading to more line drives and far fewer home runs. Torres is in just the 13th percentile in hard-hit rate and the sixth percentile in average exit velocity – the barrel rate is in the 18th percentile. He has been solid using all parts of the field to hit, but the slugging is simply not there. He ranks in the 21st percentile in expected slugging percentage and just the 40th in expected batting average. Torres is cheap and playable for the struggles, coming in at $2,700 on FanDuel and $3,200 on DraftKings and lower ownership than his teammates. However, the upside is in question at this point.

Clint Frazier is well into post-hype territory as a prospect. Finally given a chance at a full-time role, Frazier has disappointed, slashing just .184/.311/.318 over his first 212 plate appearances this season. He has hit just five home runs and has a .134 ISO and two stolen bases. Frazier has created runs 18.0% worse than average on the season, but he does have talent. There is lurking power and obvious speed. Frazier just needs to put his tools together in a sustained fashion. For only $2,200 on FanDuel and $2,900 on DraftKings, he has price-based upside, and he will be owned below five percent on both sites, adding to the appeal.

Veteran Brett Gardner will also be under five percent public ownership. In what will almost certainly be his final season, the hard-nosed role-playing longtime Yankee favorite has been exposed as a player at the end of the line. Gardner slashes a lowly .201/.305/.308 with a .107 ISO and just two home runs with one stolen base in 191 plate appearances. He is creating runs 25.0% worse than average. As a lefty for no cost and no popularity, there is always the chance of a flash of upside, and Gardner is a functional wraparound play if he’s getting on base, but there are only fumes in the gas tank at this point.

HR Call: Javier Baez — Chicago Cubs

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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