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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 7/17/21

Terry McBride

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MLB DFS Picks, top stacks and pitchers for Yahoo, DraftKings & FanDuel daily fantasy baseball lineups, including the Astros | Monday, 7/19

The Saturday MLB DFS schedule lands 10 games in the evening main slate, giving gamers an excellent board from which to draw both pitching and offense. There are top-end starters in decent spots and a wide range of solid value arms with potential upside on the pitching board; the slate includes a Coors Field game; the Padres are in another excellent spot against a struggling starter, there is plenty to like about this evening’s contests across the industry. The slate becomes more interesting on DraftKings than it is on FanDuel, given the site’s sharper pricing and two starter requirement. Getting to the top-end MLB DFS plays and stacks with premium starters in both pitching slots is a virtual impossibility, though there are plenty of options to offset cost and popularity. The FanDuel slate is easier to put together, the apex pitchers are not overpriced, and there are several underpriced under-owned options available.

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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.


Be sure to catch the MLB DFS Deeper Dive & Live Before Lock, where we will review all the games, emphasizing finding the best stacks and top MLB DFS 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

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 8.54

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 6.71

Boston Red Sox: JD Martinez — 12.39

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 15.31

Cincinnati Reds: Eugenio Suarez — 7.51

Colorado Rockies: CJ Cron — 10.26

Houston Astros: Carlos Correa — 10.56

Kansas City Royals: Sal Perez — 11.98

Los Angeles Angels: Jared Walsh — 10.08

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger — 15.11

Milwaukee Brewers: Willy Adames — 4.53

New York Mets: Peter Alonso — 23.42

New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton — 8.56

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes — 9.14

San Diego Padres: Tommy Pham — 8.11

San Francisco Giants: Wilmer Flores — 10.07

Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 6.42

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 9.97

Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena — 4.70

Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman — 10.85


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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.

On the Hill

The Saturday slate offers several top-end pitching options against good offenses and a broad range of mid-tier pitchers in good spots. There are also a few standout value plays available. The top end of the board is familiar, with Brandon Woodruff and Gerrit Cole leading the way, despite difficult spots against the Reds and Red Sox, respectively. The right-handed aces are followed by Braves lefty Max Fried in a potentially sneaky upside spot against the Rays, expensive Anthony DeSclafani, who draws the Cardinals, Nathan Eovaldi against the Yankees, and Luis Castillo, who is in a good matchup for strikeouts but comes at a value price on both sites after struggling in the first half. Mets rookie Tylor Megill is drawing a strong projection against the measly Pirates offense. He is somehow priced at just $6,500 on FanDuel but is drawing only limited ownership attention. Additional options carry downside or limited innings risk. Blake Snell has struggled with efficiency, Lucas Giolito has struggled after the league’s recent rules crackdown and faces the excellent Astros lineup, and Walker Buehler is pitching in Coors Field.

Of the dice-roll options, Buehler is oddly the best bet, despite the park factors at play. The Dodgers righty is an excellent option for depth. He has delivered 114.1 innings in 18 starts, striking out 25.7% of hitters so far this season. The strikeout numbers have been on the rise, and Buehler is pitching to a 3.72 xFIP while walking just 5.9% and inducing an 11.5% swinging-strike rate. Buehler is priced down for the ballpark, which adds to his appeal, but it’s not pushing his ownership. The public seems reluctant to get to the pitcher in this park, which lends significant upside to the play. Despite playing their home games at Coors, the Rockies are baseball’s worst team against right-handed pitching, and it is not particularly close. Colorado has a WRC+ of just 71, 29% below average in the split, with Arizona’s 82 the next-lowest number on the board. Colorado also struggles for power. They have just a 2.63% home-run rate and a .140 ISO as a team against righties. Buehler is talented enough to overcome this lineup in this ballpark and deserves consideration given the pricing and ownership.

Woodruff is perhaps the top overall option. He is in a matchup that is slightly more favorable than what Cole faces. The opposing Reds have been excellent against righties all season. They have a .174 team ISO and create runs 7% better than average by WRC+. The Cincinnati offense has a 3.83% home-run rate in the split, and they strike out at just a 22.8% clip, ninth-best in the league. Woodruff is not in an easy spot. The Brewers righty has been electric through the first half, however. He has a 29.9% strikeout rate, a 5.8% walk rate with a 2.94 xFIP, and a 0.82 WHIP. Woodruff induces an 11.9% swinging-strike rate and has a 30.1% CSW%, and he has a fantastic contact profile. The righty has yielded just a 4.7% barreled-ball rate with an 8.3-degree average launch angle and has allowed a mere 31% hard-hit rate with an 86.3 mph average exit velocity. This is a pitcher that knows how to limit opposing power and find bonus strikeouts. Woodruff will be popular on both sites, but not to unplayable degrees, though rostering him with a stack like the Dodgers is a difficult exercise in both popularity and price.

Cole was spectacular his last time out, pitching a complete-game shutout against his former Astros teammates in Houston. The Yankees righty ace was his old self for a night, putting any spin and sticky stuff concerns momentarily to rest. Cole will likely not return to the 40%-plus strikeout rate that we saw from him through the early part of the season, but his current 33.5% rate seems sustainable, and he is still at just a 2.90 xFIP with a 5% walk rate. He has always yielded too much premium contact to hitters who are able to square him up, but those are few enough that, typically, home runs tend to be solo shots. Cole is sharp, keeping runners off the bases with a 0.93 WHIP. The Red Sox offense is excellent, however, and Cole will not be safe from the errant long ball or simple sequential hitting piling up. Cole’s win equity is also in question. The Yankees are battling a COVID-19 outbreak as well as several previous injuries and are likely to play a lineup that is half comprised of Triple-A players once again. The Red Sox, meanwhile, create runs 4% better than average and have a 3.86% home-run rate against right-handed pitching this season, with a collective .187 ISO and a league-average 23.8% strikeout rate. There is potential for Cole to put up another dominant start, but this is a challenging lineup, and he will be both expensive and popular. Between the two, Woodruff seems like the better play on both sites.


Try Our Awesemo MLB DFS Top Pitchers Tool

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.

Fried is inexpensive on both sites, and he is drawing low ownership on FanDuel, with an appropriate share on DraftKings. The lefty has been solid through the first half, though his strikeout rate is at just 22.8% across 72.2 innings. Fried has induced an 11.4% swinging-strike rate and is excellent limiting quality contact with just a 33.2% hard-hit rate and an 86.6 mph average exit velocity. The southpaw draws a matchup against a Tampa Bay team that has been surprisingly bad against left-handed pitching, given their overall quality. The Rays active roster has just a 2.86% home-run rate in the split this season, second-worst in baseball. They have a collective .142 ISO and create runs 8% worse than average against lefties while striking out at a 26.5% rate that is fifth-worst in the league. Fried has the upside to limit the already non-existent power in the Rays lineup in this matchup while also potentially finding a few additional strikeouts. There is upside in getting to him at this price and less than 10% ownership on FanDuel, though there is an even better play for value.

Mets starter Tylor Megill has thrown just 18 innings in the Majors over four starts, but he has posted a 33.8% strikeout rate and been successful with his contact profile in the limited sample. The rookie was able to reliably post strikeouts at every level through the minors and is a well-regarded, if not premium, prospect in the Mets system. Megill has significant upside on the slate. He projects well in a matchup against a Pirates offense that limits strikeouts against righties but does everything else poorly. Pittsburgh is second-best in baseball with a 21.3% strikeout rate in the split, but they have just a 2.7% home-run rate and a .134 collective ISO while creating runs 12% behind the average by WRC+. Megill costs just $6,500 on the blue site but is owned in the low single digits. On DraftKings, he is almost untouched, though he is priced at a less valuable $8,000. Megill offers immense upside given the price tag and lack of popularity on the FanDuel slate. He will not have to do much to deliver a score that works well with the upside potential of hitting combinations that his salary unlocks.

Coors Field

Getting this out of the way, the Dodgers are the top team on the stacks board on both sites tonight, and, spoiler alert, they will be the top team tomorrow as well. Simply dropping this lineup into this hitting environment allocates a gargantuan share of the top lineup probability to Los Angeles. There are excellent hitters from top to bottom in the Dodgers projected batting order, but they will all be excessively popular on both sites, and they are priced through the roof on the DraftKings slate. It is virtually impossible to roster unique combinations of Dodgers hitters with the best pitchers on the board on that site. With the values created on FanDuel, the task is far easier, but the Dodgers are drawing just an even leverage score, where they are several points into positive leverage territory on the DraftKings slate. This is a difficult team to roster in this spot, despite the clear upside. With many other quality teams on the board, this seems like a spot to consider undercutting the field and deploying the Dodgers in a more secondary stack role. Rostering the Rockies lineup is less appealing against Buehler than it was in yesterday’s spot. They are rightfully low-owned.

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Houston Astros

The Astros are one of the best lineups in baseball against pitchers of both hands. They draw White Sox righty Lucas Giolito, who has struggled to find his form in recent outings. Overall for the season, the righty has a 29.4% strikeout rate and a 3.57 xFIP but walks 7.8% of hitters and has a 1.17 WHIP, which is higher than one would expect for the reputation. Giolito has been excellent with swing and miss stuff through the first half, inducing a 15.4% swinging-strike rate, but he has a 30.1% CSW% that should be higher if he were working around the zone slightly more. The righty has concerning contact metrics but has gotten away without yielding premium power. His 8.6% barreled-ball rate and 19.3-degree average launch angle allowed have resulted in just a 36.8% hard-hit rate and an 88.1 mph average exit velocity for opposing hitters. Giolito was sharper in his most recent outing, striking out nine Orioles hitters before the break, but he struggled in several starts against lesser offenses than what Houston will throw at him today. There is upside for the Astros bats. The team is far and away the best in baseball creating runs against righties with a WRC+ 18% above average, and they are baseball’s best at avoiding strikeouts in the split with just a 19.7% rate. The active roster has a collective .176 ISO and a 3.94% home-run rate against right-handed pitchers that are also both above average. There is no Astros hitter projected above 5% ownership on either FanDuel or DraftKings tonight. Houston is highly ranked on the Top Stacks tool, and they offer major upside given the lack of popularity.

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Jose Altuve leads off for the Astros with his .276/.359/.494 slash and 20 home runs. The second baseman has roared back to MLB DFS relevance this season. He has a .217 ISO and is creating runs 36% better than average while striking out just 15.5% of the time. His ability to get on base and create for himself with his power and hit tools make Altuve an excellent play on any slate. He costs $5,500 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel, and he will be virtually untouched on both sites.

Michael Brantley is the first of several upside lefties that Giolito will have to get through in this lineup. Brantley has hit just six home runs this season, and his speed has been non-existent, but he is slashing a fantastic .329/.375/.486, and he creates runs 42% better than average by WRC+. Brantley is a hit tool and on-base specialist at this point in his career, but he is a terrific cog in the machine for this team that just turns their lineup over again and again against even the best pitching. Brantley is also a major value play on the slate, coming in at just $3,500 on DraftKings and $3,100 on the FanDuel slate.

Yuli Gurriel is the most disrespected hitter in MLB DFS, which we have been calling out in this space all season. Gurriel is slashing .318/.383/.479 with 10 home runs in his 360 plate appearances this season. He creates runs 40% better than average by WRC+ and puts the ball in play constantly, given just a 9.7% strikeout rate for the season. Gurriel is a phenomenal hitter who is somehow priced at just $4,900 on DraftKings and, far more egregiously, at $2,700 on FanDuel. The latter price makes Gurriel one of the best overall bats on the slate, particularly when combined with his incredibly low ownership.

Yordan Alvarez is typically a much more popular play. Given the name-brand opposing pitcher and the $5,700 price tag on tonight’s DraftKings slate, he will be very low-owned. On FanDuel, he picks up slightly more popularity but is still in the low single digits even though he costs only $3,700. The lefty slugger has hit 16 home runs this season. He has a .230 ISO and creates runs 42% better than average. Alvarez is slashing .289/.356/.519 on the season. He is yet another in a line of excellent options in this lineup.


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Carlos Correa is a $5,300 shortstop on DraftKings that no one is touching. On FanDuel, he costs just $3,500 and is equally unpopular. This is a mistake on both sites. Correa is slashing .283/.380/.502 with a .219 ISO on the year. He has hit 16 home runs and creates runs at a clip 46% ahead of the average. The average WRC+ for the two-through-five-hitter stack in this lineup is 43% above the league average. Adding Altuve and the next featured hitter brings it to 39% across the first six hitters in this spectacular lineup. Correa should be rostered frequently in Astros stacks. Figuring out the pricing will be a challenge.

Lefty Kyle Tucker is the last of the completely premium Astros bats. Tucker has hit 15 home runs and stolen eight bases in his 330 plate appearances this year, delivering on his anticipated upside in every way. The outfielder has a .229 ISO and is creating runs 30% ahead of the average while slashing .276/.334/.505 on the season. Tucker has a .578 expected slugging percentage that sits in the 97th percentile in baseball, and his .315 expected batting average shows there is further upside available in the bat. Tucker makes significant premium contact. He has a 50.8% hard-hit rate and an 11.7% barreled-ball rate on the season, with a .460 xwOBAcon. Getting to the outfielder when no one else always makes sense, Tucker adds the benefit of somehow costing just $3,300 on FanDuel and $3,600 on DraftKings.

Third baseman Abraham Toro has a solid profile for raw power upside, though he has struggled to deliver at the Major League level while filling in for injured Alex Bregman. Toro is slashing just .218/.296/.333 with a .115 ISO, and he has hit just three home runs and stolen three bases in his 98 plate appearances. There’s limited appeal in one of the few Astros to create runs well below average. Toro comes in at just an 81 WRC+, 19% below average, though he is an easy salary offset on both sites.

Myles Straw and Martin Maldonado add to the value end of the equation with their nearly minimum pricing on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Straw has speed to burn and has been getting on base more reliably. He is up to 13 stolen bases with a .349 on-base percentage, which would justify a better lineup spot on many teams. The outfielder is somewhat interesting as an offbeat wraparound play, though that would be more necessary if his teammates were more popular. Maldonado offers limited upside at the catcher spot where required. He has hit six home runs in 243 plate appearances and has just a .120 ISO with a 31.3% strikeout rate. Removing that last mark takes the average strikeout rate for the Astros projected lineup from 18.2% to 16.6% on the season.

HR Call: Peter Alonso — New York Mets

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 Awesemo.com. 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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