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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 6/17/21

Terry McBride

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FanDuel MLB DFS picks daily fantasy baseball cheat sheet today optimal lineups optimizer Tim Anderson top stacks MLB playoffs

Tonight’s typically short Thursday slate of MLB DFS is no less exciting than some of the gigantic contests that came earlier in the week. The slate includes several very interesting pitching matchups but just one true standout spot. Once again there is a Coors Field game to contend with. Not only is it creating the usual offensive bubble, but MLB DFS gamers will also have to decide how much risk they can bear in rostering one of the slate’s premium pitchers at the Denver launching pad. The slate should be ripe for runs with several inflated game totals, including a potential slugfest between the Yankees and Blue Jays. Getting to less popular combinations of premium players in highly correlated full stacks is once again the name of the game in making our MLB DFS lineups 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.

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Home Run Ratings

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

Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman — 1.41

Chicago Cubs: Joc Pederson — 9.69

Chicago White Sox: Yermin Mercedes — 8.06

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto — 6.26

Colorado Rockies: Ryan McMahon — 5.80

Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candelario — 3.03

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 11.27

Los Angeles Angels: Justin Upton — 14.09

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 5.91

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 10.87

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 23.42

San Diego Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. — 5.77

Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 7.06

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 8.08

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 11.54

Toronto Blue Jays: Randal Grichuk — 8.71


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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 daily fantasy baseball expert strategy advice picks DraftKings FanDUel projections ownership rankings tonight Thursday June 17 home runs top pitchers stacks yankees mets rays blue jays angels cubs Aaron judge Giancarlo Stanton Shohei Ohtani Vladamir Guerrero Jr

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 shapes up interestingly, with most playable options coming from the midrange. The prime spot is, naturally, Shohei Ohtani facing the lowly Tigers offense. Ohtani may be in the best spot, but Joe Musgrove has been lights out and ranks atop the Top Pitchers Tool, despite a difficult matchup against the Reds. The slate’s other best option on general name recognition and talent is Brandon Woodruff, but the Brewers will be the visiting squad at Coors Field tonight, so decisions must be weighed carefully. The balance of the board is a mix of uncomfortable options that includes Rich Hill taking on the Mariners, Dylan Cease in a very tough spot against the Astros, as well as Charlie Morton and Marcus Stroman both in challenging contests of their own. Meanwhile, a potentially sneaky option lurks in the form of Detroit’s Matt Manning, an apex pitching prospect who will be making his major league debut to no ownership and no cost in the MLB DFS industry.

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Ohtani draws Detroit, a team that is worst in baseball with a 27.0% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching. The Tigers have a 3.35% home run rate in the split and a .153 team ISO, there is league average power coming back the other way against Ohtani, but a pitcher of his caliber should have little difficulty extinguishing that flame. He has a 34.0% strikeout rate through 47.1 innings in nine starts this season. He is inducing an excellent 14.3% swinging strikes and generating a 30.2% CSW, compiling a 3.39 xFIP and a 1.18 WHIP. The 14.0% walk rate is far higher than one would expect, given the WHIP, and is an area that Ohtani can and should improve. While there is always the possibility that a couple of free passes and a long ball bite him, Ohtani can be rostered confidently for the excellent strikeout upside. The larger question is one of length, Ohtani does not habitually pitch deep into games, though he has completed six innings in two of his three most recent starts, making it through 5.0 in the other. Ohtani will not be overly popular at $11,000 on FanDuel, but for $8,100 on DraftKings he is an entirely different play that can, should and will be rostered heavily.

Musgrove is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and not just because he won monster GPPs with his no-hitter. He escaped from the Pittsburgh pitching system after originally developing with, then getting traded there by, the Astros. Pittsburgh has quietly produced several of the game’s best arms and a few solid second tier starters … just not until after they leave the Pirates. Musgrove showed signs of a breakout last season with the Pirates, jumping up to a 33.1% strikeout rate and 3.19 xFIP in his 39.2 innings. Over 72.0 innings with the Padres this season, Musgrove has fully delivered on that promise. He has continued the strong trend from last season, improving to a 2.70 xFIP in the larger sample, while maintaining a 33.8% strikeout rate that is virtually identical to last year’s major uptick. Even more encouragingly, Musgrove has cut his walk rate in half, dropping from 9.6% last season to just 4.9% this year, which is a return to career lows that were posted when he was striking out just 20.6% of hitters in 2018. This is a pitcher who has learned to harness his talents and is ascending toward the peak of his powers in his age 28 season. Musgrove sits in the 61st percentile in average exit velocity allowed, the 61st in hard hit rate yielded, the 64th in expected slugging percentage against, the 93rd percentile in chase rate, the 90th in strikeout rate and the 92nd in walk rate this season.

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Musgrove has a fantastic arsenal of spin-heavy stuff, including a 95th percentile spin rate of 2,573rpm on his 93.4mph four-seamer and an 80th percentile 2,741rpm spin rate on his curveball. He adds a mix of additional pitches that includes his go-to plus-plus slider, as well as a cutter, changeup and sinker, any of which he can deploy to either hand, though the changeup is primarily reserved for lefties. When Musgrove gets in trouble it is with yielding premium contact in the form of barreled balls on his fastball and cutter, both of which are carrying somewhat inflated expected slugging percentage marks, though across the full arsenal he is clearly well ahead of average. Musgrove is in a challenging spot; he draws a Reds team that is eighth-best in baseball with a .180 ISO against right-handed pitching while creating runs 10.0% better than average and striking out just 22.2% of the time. Cincinnati has a robust 4.04% home run rate in the split as well, good for seventh-best in baseball, so Musgrove is by no means completely safe. He is merely one of the top options on a slate with a gradual incline and low peak to pitching projections.

For $10,200 on DraftKings and $10.800 on FanDuel, Woodruff is a very pricey risk play against the pathetic Rockies’ offense at Coors Field tonight. The Rockies have shown why it is important to pay attention to their side of Coors games as well, and there are obvious reasons to not draw a starter in baseball’s premium hitting environment just as a general rule. Still, Woodruff is drawing virtually no ownership compared wo where he would be in any other park in the league in this matchup. He has been sharp through 83.0 innings in his 13 starts, cruising to a 31.5% strikeout rate and a 2.72 xFIP. Woodruff induces 12.5% swinging strikes, and he is taking on a Rockies team with a 24.0% strikeout rate that is exactly the middle of the board. Colorado has a below average .136 team ISO in the split and just a 2.51% home run rate, this is not a competitive baseball team, it is one that creates runs at a rate 33.0% worse than average against righties. Outside of the park, Woodruff is in an excellent spot and there is a good argument to be made that he is going under-owned for the potential upside, though this is obviously not for MLB DFS gamers lacking for fortitude and risk tolerance.

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Speaking of the faint of heart, if the Woodruff play is not your style you can likely skip this paragraph entirely. The Tigers are debuting another highly touted pitching prospect in their game against the Angels tonight and he is at least worth a brief look. Matt Manning was the Tigers’ ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft and features a solid mix of a fastball that can touch 97 mph, a plus curveball and a plus-plus changeup. Scout also salivate over how the hurler uses his large frame in delivering pitches effectively. Manning made a steady ascension through the Tigers system over the past few seasons, stopping at several levels and posting quality marks along the way. In 2019 he saw his largest workload by far, all at Double-A, putting up a 2.63 xFIP and a 28.1% strikeout rate. There are major concerns with his current performance, but in 32.1 innings at Triple-A this season, Manning has given up an alarming 11 home runs. There is a significant possibility that this pitcher gets torched early, a first inning Ohtani blast is absolutely on the table. Still, for virtually no investment at $4,700 on DraftKings, Manning is compelling. For $6,300 on FanDuel, you’re probably just gambling, but the DraftKings pricing cannot be ignored. When priced like a midrange hitter, Manning would have to do very little to deliver value. Assuming he avoids significant trouble, Manning is stretched out and should be able to deliver a fairly standard start in terms of length and pitch count, the Tigers have few alternatives but to let the kid pitch, which is why he is even making this start in the first place.

[osBestBetsSingleGameOdds league=”mlb” date=”06/17/2021″ team=”yankees”]

New York Yankees

The Yankees jump right to the top of the power index once again for their matchup against T.J. Zeuch and the bullpen. They are a stackable team that is not overly expensive, they are flashing for power again but have clear problems with sequential hitting that hamstrings their offense on too many nights this season. The team’s thunderous upside is obvious on any given slate, they stand out on this one. The Yankees are under-owned on the DraftKings slate for their probability of being the top stack, second only to the Brewers who are at Coors Field. New York ranks highly on the FanDuel board as well, but they are pulling more ownership on the blue site and slip into slightly negative leverage. Rostering Yankees bats continues to be the right play on the way in, here’s hoping it feels better at the end of the night this time.

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Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are in Houston to face the Astros in a showdown of top American League teams and a potential October preview. The series should be a blast to watch, things get started tonight with Cease dueling Jose Urquidy. He has been steady if unspectacular through his 62.0 innings in 11 starts. He has a 4.25 xFIP with a 1.03 WHIP and a 22.3% strikeout rate but just a 4.5% walk rate. Urquidy induces 11.4% swinging strikes, high for such a low strikeout rate, though his 28.1% CSW says he is not working in the zone for strikes enough. He has largely avoided premium contact this season, landing in the 78th percentile of hard hit rate allowed and the 56th percentile in average opposing exit velocity. He has allowed a targetable 35th percentile barrel rate of 8.9% and a 36th percentile expected slugging percentage against this season however, putting the White Sox offense on the table. Chicago will match Urquidy’s low strikeout rate with a 23.3% rate of their own. A top-10 mark in the split that suggests balls will be put in play throughout. The White Sox have lacked for power against righties this season, they are below average with just a .141 team ISO and a 2.72% home run rate in the split, but still manage to create runs five% better than average. There is sneaky upside, and the White Sox appear under-owned as a unit across both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight.

Tim Anderson is a player who receives raves when featured in this space. He is an excellent option for MLB DFS production, given his toolkit that includes power, speed and a batting-title level hit tool. Anderson has made 239 plate appearances this season, posting an excellent .313/.351/.446 slash and creating runs 22.0% better than average. If quibbling, his ISO has slipped to just .134 this year and he has hit only six home runs, though he remains excellent with 13 stolen bases. He is only a $4,000 player on the FanDuel slate and is drawing less than five% ownership. For $4,600 he is underpriced and projecting for mid-teens ownership on DraftKings, but he should not be left out of Chicago stacks for the popularity.

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Brian Goodwin is projected in the two spot in the lineup again tonight. He has made just 20 plate appearances this season after a recent call-up. Goodwin has a home run and a .250 ISO in those opportunities. At age 30, Goodwin is clearly a player who will land as a historical afterthought, someone caught between Triple-A and MLB, largely through simple circumstance. A glance at the career track record shows a player who has quietly put up an above-average performance over his limited opportunity in the Show. Goodwin peaked with 458 plate appearances in 2019 with Los Angeles, giving the Angels a .262/.326/.470 season with 17 home runs and seven% better than average run creation, even throwing in seven stolen bases for good measure. He posted similar numbers with 13 home runs, six steals and a .247 ISO in 278 plate appearances for Washington in 2017. He has yet to see 200 plate appearances in any other season. Over the course of his compiled career, Goodwin has made 1,144 plate appearances and he has created runs two% better than average. He has a .250/.318/.456 slash and an excellent .206 ISO over that sample. Goodwin is cheap at $2,400 on FanDuel and $2,900 on DraftKings, and he will be drawing no attention on either site.

Catcher Yermin Mercedes has been steady at the plate for the White Sox early on, filling the gap in the absence of some of the team’s most productive hitters. Mercedes has a .280/.336/.422 slash but just a .142 ISO on the season. He has hit seven home runs in his 238 plate appearances but flashes only occasional power. He has created runs 12.0% better than average, and he costs very little on the blue site. At $4,400 on DraftKings he makes an interesting option and should be in the mix for catcher shares along with his upcoming teammate at the same position two hitters from now.

Jose Abreu has been solid for power over his first 267 plate appearances in 2021. He has a .214 ISO and 12 home runs while creating runs 18.0% better than average this season. He is slashing .252/.326/.466 which is well off his career .292/.349/.517 marks, but there is enough sample with Abreu to expect him to see more of an uptick as the season rolls along. He had a .317/.370/.617 season with a .300 ISO and 19 home runs in 262 opportunities just last season, that talent has not disappeared, there is always upside in this bat at low ownership. Abreu finds himself priced down on both sites: Under $5,000 on DraftKings and at a very user-friendly $3,500 on FanDuel.

[osBestBetsSingleGameOdds league=”mlb” date=”06/17/2021″ team=”white sox”]

The second catcher in the projected lineup for the White Sox is Yasmani Grandal, who has been one of baseball’s leading options for offense at the position over the past few seasons and who is having one of the more remarkable statistical seasons in recent memory. Grandal comes into tonight’s action 48 points below baseball’s “Mendoza line” (a .200 batting average, long held as the standard for truly atrocious performance) yet he is having a fantastic year. Grandal creates runs 26.0% better than average and rounds off his triple-slash at .152/.387/.384. For a player to put together a .152 batting average and .384 on-base percentage almost defies logic. That is, until one notices Grandal’s absurd walk rate this season. He leads baseball, drawing a free pass 27.2% of the time. The next-highest hitter that comes close in plate appearance qualifications is Christian Yelich, who slots in a 20.6% walk rate over his 141 plate appearances, while Joey Gallo is at 19.1% in 267 tries. Grandal’s ability to get on base and move the lineup along, while scoring runs and hitting for power cannot be ignored in stacking this team. Grandal has 10 home runs and a .232 ISO on the season. For MLB DFS purposes, this is a near perfect player who many that focus on traditional stats like batting average will skip, leading to below five% ownership on both sites.

Andrew Vaughn came into the season as a premium prospect and has delivered average performance that is fine but not attention-getting for a rookie. Vaughn is slashing .231/.310/.393 with a .162 ISO over his first 197 plate appearances in 2021. He has a 97 WRC+ and has hit five home runs, though there is long-scouted power lurking in his bat. Vaughn simply needs time; he lacks a track record at the professional level partly because he is such a premium talent. This is a kid who was just drafted in 2019, when he was the third overall pick after an excellent college career at Cal. Vaughn made 16 plate appearances in rookie ball that same year before rising through low A over 103 plate appearances and landing at high-A for 126 more. Then there was a pandemic that wiped out all of the minor leagues in 2020, and then Vaughn was a major leaguer. Vaughn is a player figuring things out on the fly. He can deliver for just $2,100 on FanDuel and $2,600 on DraftKings, particularly when no one else is rostering him.

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Leury Garcia hits from both sides of the plate and provides eligibility at third base and in the outfield on DraftKings and between second base and shortstop on FanDuel, so no one really knows where Garcia plays in the field. At the plate Garcia has turned in a .253/.312/.319 slash over 204 plate appearances this season. He has hit no home runs and stolen just two bases, putting up a .066 ISO and creating runs 20.0% worse than average. This is a low-quality low-cost mix-in for salary purposes only. Popularity should not be such that it is mandatory to get overweight on Garcia in order to differentiate White Sox stacks in lineup constructions tonight.

Danny Mendick is perhaps the more interesting option for those seeking a wraparound from the bottom of the batting order. Mendick is slashing .234/.337/.351 on the season and he has hit two home runs. He has a .117 ISO and is creating runs just one% below league average in his 90 plate appearances. In 2019, Mendick hit 17 home runs in 558 plate appearances at Triple-A, adding 19 stolen bases and displaying clear upside. The season before he hit 14 home runs and stole 20 bases in 529 Double-A opportunities. Mendick has not come through over his first 244 major league League plate appearances. He has a .251/.309/.386 slash with seven home runs and a .135 ISO in the sample, but there is some sneaky unowned upside in play for the desperate.

HR Call: Brandon Lowe — Tampa Bay Rays

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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