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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 7/22/21

Terry McBride

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MLB DFS DraftKings FanDuel Tournament Strategy Home Runs

The eight-game fantasy baseball slate on Thursday offers up an interesting mix of pitchers with what appears to be a low peak and a broad mid-range. There is one true ace on the slate followed by a mix of starters ranging from over to underperforming for the season, and they land at affordable prices on both sites. This is a pitching slate that is going to walk the field into very specific plays with premium bats. Focusing on a spread of the better pitching options while getting to the MLB DFS picks and top MLB DFS stacks that the public overlooks is a great approach to building differentiated lineups for GPP play on both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight.

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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.


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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: Joc Pederson — 19.99

Boston Red Sox: Hunter Renfroe — 8.51

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant — 11.12

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 11.11

Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani — 16.64

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy — 9.28

Miami Marlins: Adam Duvall — 12.18

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 9.88

New York Yankees: Gary Sanchez — 5.44

Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson — 9.68

Philadelphia Phillies: Rhys Hoskins — 6.51

San Diego Padres: Trent Grisham — 10.83

San Francisco Giants: Wilmer Flores — 7.36

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager — 6.25

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 9.55

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 6.38


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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

Thursday comes in somewhat short on trustworthy pitching options, though that is not to say it is lacking in interesting spots on which to roll the dice. The top of the board on both sites is Walker Buehler, who is in a plus strikeout spot against the Giants, but that is an offense that has been connecting against righties all season. Oakland’s Sean Manaea draws a far easier matchup against the Mariners and comes in as the top pitcher in my personal model. Those two are followed by a block of options priced from midrange to fair on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Pitchers in this range include Luis Patino, Charlie Morton, Adbert Alzolay, and Andrew Heaney.

Buehler draws a Giants team that is targetable for strikeouts but dangerous with the bat all the same. San Francisco is seventh worst in baseball with a 25.2% strikeout rate against righties this season. The Giants are tied for first with a .198 team ISO in the split and their 4.50% home run rate sits second. They create runs 9% better than average as well, with only the strikeouts limiting their ability to string together sequential hits and create additional runs. Buehler is not entirely safe against this lineup, but he is easily the slate’s most talented pitcher, and he is in strong form. He has thrown 121.1 innings in 19 starts this season and his strikeout rate has gradually climbed, reaching 26% coming into tonight after a slow start. Buehler has walked just 6% of opposing hitters and he has a 3.70 xFIP with a 0.91 WHIP and he induces an 11.5% swinging strike rate. Buehler allows a 37.3% hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity of 88.2 mph, and his expected slugging percentage of .355 ranks in the 67th percentile. There is a chance the Giants are able to connect and drive the ball, but Buehler stands as the most likely pitcher to put up a mandatory score on both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight.

Manaea largely cruises under the radar for both baseball discussions and MLB DFS purposes on most slates. Tonight he will be the most popular pitcher on both DraftKings and FanDuel in his matchup against the Mariners. Manaea has completed 109.2 innings over 19 starts this season and he has a sharp 3.61 xFIP with a 25.3% strikeout rate and a sterling 5.5% walk rate. He induces a 12.2% swinging strike rate, though he has allowed a few too many baserunners at a 1.20 WHIP and he throws slightly too few overall strikes with a 28.8% CSW. Manaea has been effective despite a 39.6% hard-hit rate that slips into the 46th percentile and an 89.2 mph average exit velocity allowed that lands in the 32nd percentile. Manaea’s 44th percentile expected slugging lands at .402, another mark that suggests he has pitched somewhat above his head. Part of the popularity comes from the opposing Mariners, who are second worst with a 26.6% strikeout rate against lefties this season. The Mariners do have a high-end 4.35% home run rate and a .175 ISO in the split, but they create runs 8% behind the average against lefties, setting an expectation for excellence for Manaea tonight. Rostering him under the field is a strong consideration, however, given the heavy ownership and similarly talented options available. Rostering contrarian Mariners stacks is also somewhat viable given the team’s clear home run upside in the split.

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Alzolay ranks further down the board than many quality names on the Top Pitchers tool, but if one examines the actual probability of success by which the pitchers are sorted, Alzolay is merely a few percentage points away from the third or fourth best options, and he is extremely low owned on both sites. Alzolay costs just $8,400 on DraftKings and $7,400 on FanDuel and will be under 5% popularity on the slate. Alzolay has completed 82.1 innings in 16 starts, with some minor concerns around his overall innings upside. He pitched five innings and faced 21 hitters in each of his last two outings. Without an announced plan to limit his time on the mound, Alzolay is in play. He has a 24.7% strikeout rate this season with an 11.5% swinging strike rate and a 29.4% CSW. He has walked 7.1% of opposing hitters and has a 1.11 WHIP with a solid 3.81 xFIP. Alzolay allows too much premium contact, however, yielding an 11.1% barrel rate and a 42.7% hard-hit rate. The opposing Cardinals have significant power in the lineup, though it has been limited through most of this season and the team has just a 3.26% home run rate against righties with a .148 ISO, both in the bottom third of the league. The Cardinals have created runs a surprising 14% behind the average by collective WRC+ in the split this season, but they are good at limiting strikeouts against righties with a 21.9% mark that is fifth-best in the league. Alzolay has a path to a good start, though he will have his work cut out finding bonus strikeouts in the stingy Cardinals lineup. For essentially no public ownership and a discounted price, Alzolay is easily worth a few MLB DFS lineup shares on both sites.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are notably atop the power index today, drawing high marks in my home run model against Matt Moore. He is extremely targetable for power with a 40% hard-hit rate and a 17.9-degree average launch angle, and he is someone to lock in on for run creation, yielding a 10.4% barrel rate and a 10.2% walk rate while striking out just 19.9% of hitters this season. Moore has a 5.25 xFIP, a 1.61 WHIP, induces just 8.8% swinging strikes and has a lowly 24.1% CSW. Even without injured superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., this Braves lineup should be deadly in the spot. The public is well aware of this, however. Atlanta is already in negative leverage territory on both sites. The top of Atlanta’s lineup includes Joc Pederson, who typically struggles against lefties, as well as Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. In an ideal world that is the easy go-to five-man stack, but those are also the most popular hitters in this lineup on both sites, while the final three spots in the lineup leave much to be desired.


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Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will be backing up Alzolay in a spot that projects very well for run creation, provided they do not trade their prime bats prior to the first pitch. Chicago is facing Kwang-hyun Kim, a who has struck out merely 18.2% and walked 8.2% of hitters this season. Kim has a 4.62 xFIP with a 1.23 WHIP and induces just 8.9% swinging strikes with a 26.9% CSW. He has been good at limiting quality contact and power against through the season, allowing just a 5.9% barrel rate and a 34.7% hard-hit rate with an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph. Despite Kim’s ability to limit home run upside, the Cubs look like a quality option. Chicago has a 4.35% home run rate against lefties that ranks sixth in the game, and their collective .178 ISO is in the top third of the league as well. The Cubs strike out too much in the split at 24.9% bet they create runs 4% ahead of average and are a quality offense, for a few more days at least.

Willson Contreras is slashing .241/.352/.430 this season with 14 home runs and a .189 ISO, creating runs 15% better than average. He has even stolen three bases this season, adding sneaky avenues of MLB DFS point scoring. He comes in at just $2,900 on FanDuel somehow, while landing at a $5,200 price where catchers matter. Contreras makes for a strong play on both sites.

Anthony Rizzo has hit 11 home runs and has a .182 ISO this season, slashing .242/.341/.424 over 346 plate appearances. That largely represents a downturn for a player who has a career .213 ISO and several seasons of 30 or more home runs. Rizzo is striking out at just a 15.9% clip, though his walks have dropped from 11.5% to just 9.5% which impacts his on-base and run creation skills. Rizzo is still 9% ahead of average creating runs for the season and he costs only $4,200 on DraftKings and $3,100 on FanDuel with single-digit ownership.

Javier Baez is the most expensive Cubs bat on both sites, landing at $5,800 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel. He will be under 5% ownership on both sites. He has 21 home runs and 13 stolen bases in his 340 plate appearances this season. Baez is slashing .244/.289/.483 and creating runs 5% better than average, his whopping 37.1% strikeout rate is a hole in the lineup when he is failing to make contact Baez is typically sitting down, hence the low on-base and run creation marks for such a good player. The upside is massive and the ownership is not.

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Kris Bryant was held out of last night’s game with what the team referred to as “heavy legs,” which may be manager speak for not wanting to risk a prime asset. If he plays, he is clearly a big piece of the Cubs stack and a big lift to this offense. He has 16 home runs and creates runs 25% better than average by WRC+ in 347 plate appearances this season, which is why he is in such high demand around the league.

Jake Marisnick is inexpensive at $3,200 on DraftKings and $2,400 on FanDuel. He is a minor value piece from later in this lineup, though he is slashing just .217/.292/.435 over his 130 plate appearances. Marisnick has hit five home runs and has a .217 ISO in the small sample, though he has created runs 5% worse than average as well. He is playable but can also be skipped, his value will be partly dictated by his placement in the bottom half of the lineup.

Patrick Wisdom has hit 14 home runs and has a .333 ISO with a .268/.318/.601 triple-slash, creating runs 42% better than average to this point in the season. Wisdom is generating a 19.2% barrel rate and has a 61.5% hard-hit rate, his .520 expected slugging percentage is excellent, but is also notably lower than where he has been over the short sample. Wisdom has also struck out 40.5% of the time, walking just 6.1% at the Major League level. In AAA, Wisdom was able to offset the heavy strikeouts with an above average walk-rate, if that skill catches up at this level he could produce more in the run creation department even as the power deflates slightly. He has upside while he remains in the lineup.

Nico Hoerner has eligibility at second base and shortstop on the blue site. On DraftKings he costs $3,300 at second base only, so the value is better on FanDuel for $2,400 and multiple positions. Hoerner is slashing .321/.389/.393 over 126 plate appearances, though he has a .071 ISO and no home runs. He has created runs 14% ahead of the average in his brief season, putting him in play for small shares from late in the lineup. His hit tool and on-base skills to this point suggest he could help turn the lineup over well.

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Ian Happ has been a major disappointment this season, slashing .179/.291/.321 with a .142 ISO and creating runs 27% behind the curve. Happ plays second base and outfield on both sites and costs $3,500 on DraftKings and $2,400 on FanDuel. Happ hit 12 home runs with a .247 ISO across 231 plate appearances last season, in addition to losing .100 points of ISO he has hit just nine home runs in 287 opportunities this year. Happ strikes out at a 28.6% rate but does walk 12.5% of the time. He is suffering from a .226 batting average on balls in play this season, which has hampered the on-base and run creation skills. Last year Happ had a .361 on-base percentage and created runs 32% ahead of the average. The extended slump is concerning, but Happ has upside.

HR Call: Jared Walsh — Los Angeles Angels

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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