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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 7/18/21

Terry McBride

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The Sunday slate has a 1:05 p.m. ET start time for 10 games on DraftKings and nine games on FanDuel. The slates split around the Rangers – Blue Jays game, which does not appear on the blue site. Overall, this has all the makings of an excellent slate. There are high-caliber pitchers at reasonable prices, a broad mid-range and a few high-end spots for bats. This should be a slate with some room to build premium lineups without making significant value-based sacrifices given the pricing and upside spots 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: Dansby Swanson — 6.11

Baltimore Orioles: Austin Hays — 13.10

Chicago White Sox: Andrew Vaughn — 4.29

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos — 2.22

Detroit Tigers: Akil Baddoo — 7.41

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 6.06

Kansas City Royals: Carlos Santana — 11.17

Miami Marlins: Jesus Aguilar — 4.19

Milwaukee Brewers: Avisail Garcia — 6.04

Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 23.59

New York Mets: Peter Alonso — 14.49

Philadelphia Phillies: Andrew McCutchen — 8.68

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds — 5.21

San Diego Padres: Trent Grisham — 8.12

San Francisco Giants: Darin Ruf — 11.11

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 11.01

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 11.35

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 9.70


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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.

On the Hill

The pitching slate has several name-brand arms available, many of which are in good spots and fairly priced. The slate includes Corbin Burnes who draws a tough matchup against the Reds, Zack Wheeler in an easy spot against the Marlins, Max Scherzer and Joe Musgrove dueling one another in D.C. and Carlos Rodon taking on the excellent Astros lineup. Taijuan Walker of the Mets stands out as perhaps a few talent rungs below those apex starters, but he is in a great matchup and pitching in excellent form The mid-range of the slate includes a few playable options like Sonny Gray, Framber Valdez and Johnny Cueto.

Walker lands on the slate as an interesting value play by comparison to the other available starters. He has a strong chance of putting up a relevant start on both sites, given the matchup against the hapless Pirates offense, though as always there is the caveat that the Pirates do not strike out frequently. Walker has been very good through the season’s first half however, and he has the talent to overcome this low-end Pirates lineup. Walker completed 90 innings over his first 16 starts, posting a 3.94 xFIP and a 1.03 WHIP with a 24.9% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate, while inducing 9% swinging strikes. He has yielded a 39.6% hard-hit rate and a 6.8% barrel rate, but there are few power threats in the opposing lineup, Pittsburgh is next-to-last in baseball by home run rate in the split, at worst Walker should offer a high degree of safety on this slate.

Burnes has a 37.1% strikeout rate and a 2.16 xFIP through his first 15 starts this season. He has completed 87.2 innings in that sample, pitching to a 0.91 WHIP while walking a mere 4.3% of hitters. Burnes induces an excellent 16.2% swinging strike rate and a fantastic 34.1% CSW, throwing strikes at an elite level. He allows just a 3.6% barrel rate and only a 28.9% hard-hit rate with an 85.8 mph average exit velocity. Burnes does draw a challenge in Cincinnati. The Reds have a 3.82% home run rate and a 22.9% strikeout rate in the split. The Reds have created runs five percent better than average against righties this season and they have a collective .173 ISO, but Burnes’ ability to limit power has all of the Cincinnati indicators trending downward. This appears to be a solid spot for the starter, who could conceivably draw less than appropriate ownership with the matchup and other options on the board.

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Wheeler is perhaps the most reliable option in the league for depth of start. He has completed 119.2 innings in his 18 chances and is among the league leaders in quality starts. He is another pitcher who does a fantastic job keeping the ball in the park by limiting premium contact. He allows just a 4.4% barrel rate and a 29.1% hard-hit rate so far this season, yielding a mere 84.7 mph average exit velocity against. It is difficult to get to Wheeler for any kind of power and he has been excellent sitting hitters down with a 30.8% strikeout rate and a 12.7% swinging strike rate. Wheeler has a 2.71 xFIP and a 0.97 WHIP on the season. Miami’s 25.5% strikeout rate against righties is one of the league’s worst marks, and they create runs 12% worse than average, lending to Wheeler’s upside. He will be justifiably popular, but there are good reasons to play him regardless.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are in Detroit to face Wily Peralta, who has thrown 26 innings in five starts this season. Peralta has just a 15.8% strikeout rate with a 6.9% walk rate and a 4.36 xFIP. He has induced just an 8.9% swinging strike rate and a 24.2% CSW on the season and allows targetable contact metrics. Peralta yields a 9.1% barrel rate though he has gotten away with it somewhat via a 5.7-degree average launch angle and a 37.7% hard-hit rate. Despite those marks, the frequency with which Peralta allows the ball to be put in play is highly targetable with bats like those wielded by the Twins lineup. The Twins are a deep but inexpensive lineup on this slate, making them a high-end target for MLB DFS production on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Luis Arraez leads off the projected lineup and comes in cheap on both sites, largely for his lack of power and run creation upside. He is excellent at avoiding strikeouts at just a 10.4% rate, but he has hit only one home run in his 259 plate appearances and has rarely demonstrated power in the Majors. Arraez has a .083 ISO this season but is creating runs six percent above average, slashing .296/.363/.378. His ability to get on base ahead of the premium bats in the lineup is what keeps Arraez around, but his MLB DFS relevance is razor thin as he is rarely finding significant points of his own.

Josh Donaldson is one of the leading home run candidates on the board for the Twins this afternoon, but he is priced down at just $3,100 on FanDuel. Donaldson costs $5,300 as the Twins second-most expensive bat across town, so this is a different play from site to site. He has hit 14 home runs in 281 plate appearances this season. Donaldson is slashing .250/.349/.487 on the season with a .237 ISO, creating runs 26% better than average.

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Trevor Larnach hits from the left side of the plate and is slotted into the No. 3 spot in the projected lineup. Larnach has a .160 ISO and creates runs six percent ahead of average, slashing .239/.336/.399 in his 217 plate appearances this season. He has a 31.8% strikeout rate that does not jibe with his current lack of power production. Larnach sits in just the 54th percentile of hard-hit rate so far this season at 41.7%, but he has significant power upside.

Anyone who does not know to include Nelson Cruz in a Twins stack whenever he is in the lineup probably should consider a new hobby. He is slashing .305/.382/.548 over 325 plate appearances. He has hit 18 home runs and has a robust .244 ISO while creating runs 48% better than average. Cruz leads the team and the slate in the home run model and comes in at an advantageous $3,700 price tag on FanDuel. For $5,800 on DraftKings, Cruz is a taller order but one well worth the reach.

Alex Kirilloff also hits from the left side of the plate and has shown some quality but a bit of a production roller coaster in early returns. Kirilloff has hit eight home runs in 223 plate appearances, posting a .179 ISO but coming in one percent below average by WRC+ for the season. He is slashing .256/.305/.435 on the season, for just $2,800 on FanDuel and $3,500 on DraftKings he is easy to play where needed.

Jorge Polanco slots in at second base or shortstop on both sites and has been providing quality in a bit of a return to his formerly productive self. Polanco is up to 12 home runs and seven stolen bases for his 355 plate appearances. He is slashing .254/.318/.429 with a .176 ISO and created runs four percent better than average by WRC+ in the first half. He is a much easier play on FanDuel for $2,900 than he appears on the other site, where he is a whopping $5,100. Polanco has value, but that depends on the overall cost and how it fits into constructions.


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Max Kepler has made 232 plate appearances this season, responding with 10 home runs and a .217/.306/.448 slash. He has a .232 ISO and created runs four percent better than average through the first half. Kepler is managing his strikeouts, with just a 22% rate on the season, but he has struggled with the hit tool. When he makes contact, Kepler is driving the ball with a 46.1% hard-hit rate that is a significant step up from the mere 38.2% he had last season and outpaces the best rates of his career to date.

Ryan Jeffers’ 34.6% strikeout rate is difficult to roster given the lack of significant production in other categories. Jeffers has hit six home runs in 136 plate appearance and is slashing .183/.279/.375, creating runs 19% below average. As a limited shares play deployed as an endcap to a mid-lineup stack, Jeffers has upside. He is not a functional wraparound play, however.

Andrelton Simmons is a better bet for turning the lineup over. Simmons is not a high-end MLB DFS option, and this season he is slashing just .234/.304/.310. In an ideal version of this lineup, Simmons and Arraez combine to keep things churning, and they are both getting on base at an above average rate to be driven in by the power bats. Simmons can do his part on any given slate, and he costs just $3,200 on DraftKings and $2,100 on FanDuel, making him playable, with tempered expectations required.

HR Call: Nelson Cruz — Minnesota Twins

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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