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

Terry McBride



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The Thursday slate of MLB DFS action has just eight games and a very interesting pitching board that may end up a bit thin on quality. There are several premium pitchers in difficult spots and a few strong options from the mid-range before pitching falls off a cliff. That precipitous drop in quality leads to some excellent high-upside spots for bats, with multiple teams pulling strong numbers in the power index and some obvious spots to go home run hunting. With only eight games from which to draw plays, it will be important to focus on overall lineup construction for GPP play tonight. Getting further afield with lineup combinations and potentially rostering some uncomfortable pitchers is the most likely path to success. Public ownership is concentrated on a few of the more obvious spots, but some quality options emerge on the Top Pitchers and Top Stacks Tools.

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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

Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 17.12

Chicago Cubs: Patrick Wisdom — 9.54

Chicago White Sox: Gavin Sheets — 5.63

Cleveland Indians: Bobby Bradley — 7.11

Detroit Tigers: Eric HDouble-Ase — 10.59

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 25.65

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger — 5.23

Miami Marlins: Jesus Aguilar — 8.50

Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 10.45

New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton — 17.83

Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper — 20.33

San Francisco Giants: Mike Yastrzemski — 5.74

St. Louis Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt — 11.09

Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo — 14.88

Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Semien — 6.14

Washington Nationals: Trea Turner — 9.01

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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 is topped by several solid names, including Robbie Ray, in a tough matchup against the division rival Boston Red Sox. Following Ray off the peak of the board come Adam Wainwright and Kyle Hendricks ,who will be facing one another, Julio Urias and Lance McCullers. Dylan Cease is in an interesting spot from a price perspective and is still cheap in his matchup against the Twins, his first start since a 10-strikeout game against the Astros.

Ray draws a Red Sox lineup that is 15th in baseball with a 3.70% home run rate against left-handed pitching this season. The Red Sox have a collective .175 ISO that is above average in the split. They create runs 5% ahead of the curve and have a 21.3% strikeout rate in the split that is better than all but four teams. He will have his work cut out for him to hit an upside MLB DFS score and he will not be helped by the park factors going against him in the Triple-A ballpark the team will soon be leaving behind in Buffalo. Ray has been the best version of himself all season, pitching to a career-low 6.3% walk rate and a 31.9% strikeout rate over 107.1 innings in his 18 starts. He has a 3.18 xFIP, a 1.05 WHIP, induces a 15.3% swinging strike rate and has a 30.7% CSW. Ray allows a high degree of premium contact, yielding a 9.4% barrel rate with a 14.7-degree average launch angle as well as a massive 47% hard-hit rate with a 91.2 mph average exit velocity allowed. That run of numbers is prime territory for home run trajectory and Ray has a bumpy 1.68 HR/9 mark and has a .391 expected slugging percentage against that sits in the middle of the league. Ray is pricey and popular on both sites, but he is the slate’s most likely option for success, leaving him on the table is difficult on a slate short on top-end options.

Hendricks and Wainwright will be facing one another tonight, as the Cubs are in St. Louis to face their division rivals. Both pitchers are projecting well and are near the top of the board by probability of being the top option. Both right-handers are pitching well this season, and both are facing lineups that offer reasonable expectation of a good start to each pitcher. The Cardinals’ 21.9% rate against right-handed pitching sits fifth-best in baseball, while the Cubs are the league’s worst with a 26.6% strikeout rate in the split, putting Wainwright and his 22.9% strikeout rate in the driver’s seat. Hendricks’ upside may not be overly limited by the lack of strikeouts, however. His season-long rate is just 17.9% anyway. That is where the Cardinals offense will help him. St. Louis has just a 3.31% home run rate and a .150 team ISO against righties this season, both well below average, and the team creates runs 14% worse than league average by WRC+. Hendricks has a good shot at the quality start where it matters. Wainwright will be facing a Cubs lineup that is around the middle of the league with a 3.75% home run rate and a .164 ISO in the split, though they also create runs behind the curve with a collective WRC+ of just 86 against righties, 14% below average. Between the two righties, it is Wainwright who stands the better chance of being the night’s top starter, given the stronger strikeout upside, but Hendricks is going almost completely unowned across the industry on a small slate with few good pitchers while in at least a somewhat safe spot. There seems to be upside, though Hendricks is not cheap, coming in at $9,900 on FanDuel and $9,100 on DraftKings, but it is easy to get well ahead of the field while not taking on major weight. Wainwright is more expensive on DraftKings at $9,300 but still draws 35% popularity, while he is a bit of a discount at $8,800 on FanDuel but will be in nearly a quarter of all lineups.

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Lance McCullers has struck out 27.4% of hitters he has faced in 86.2 innings over 15 starts this year. He is walking a bumpy 11.9%, however, a mark that is far too high for a pitcher of his caliber. McCullers has a 3.88 xFIP and a 1.18 WHIP with an 11.4% swinging strike rate and a 31% CSW. He allows a 43.9% hard-hit rate and a 91.1 mph average exit velocity but tends to avoid significant trouble with just a 7.1-degree average launch angle allowed. With a game against the Indians on deck, McCullers could be in line for a big score. The Indians projected lineup has several strikeout-heavy components, with four hitters over a 30% strikeout rate this season. The Cleveland active roster is 9% below average creating runs against righties this season, though they do hit for some power, with a 4.07% home run rate and a .176 ISO in the split, both above average. With a large portion of the field on McCullers, it will be difficult to get to him with premium stacks in unique ways tonight on both DraftKings and the blue site. He should be rostered frequently, but an undercut could be sharp.

Cease will be challenged by a Twins lineup that is eighth-best in baseball with a 22.8% strikeout rate against righties. The Twins have a 4.23% home run rate and a collective .182 ISO, though they have created runs just 1% ahead of the curve this season. He has had breakout stuff for most of the season, with a 30% strikeout rate over 97.2 innings in 19 starts. Cease is delivering on his potential and there should be more to come in future seasons. This year he has walked 9.7% of opposing hitters, a mark that will improve as he gains command and control. He induces a 14.4% swinging strike rate and has a 29.8% CSW on the season, but he allows premium contact regularly, which adds to the concerns about his free passes. Cease has yielded a 10.1% barrel rate and a 17.6-degree average launch angle, but he stays relatively safe with a 36% hard-hit rate and 88 mph average exit velocity. A home run hitting team like the Twins could take advantage of squaring up the baseball more than others, however, making Cease a bit of a dice roll, but one well worth making at the price and popularity numbers that are lower than other top-end options.

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Boston Red Sox vs Toronto Blue Jays

Both the Red Sox and Blue Jays have been at or near the top of the board for stacks all week in their head-to-head contests in Buffalo. Both teams feature significant power and run creation upside on any given slate, when they play in a minor league stadium those numbers jump to another level. There is significant expectation of a high scoring MLB DFS night from both these teams, despite the presence of Ray on the hill for Toronto. The Red Sox counter with targetable Garret Richards, which pushes the Blue Jays stacks ahead in quality. Both teams are projected to be under-owned on the DraftKings slate, while the Red Sox are far too unpopular, but the Blue Jays are deep into negative leverage territory on the blue site. Undervalued Red Sox bats are always a good place to look for sneaky quality, particularly when facing a pitcher who yields a significant amount of contact and has issues with home runs. The Red Sox are excellent at getting on base and creating runs as well, if they keep Ray off balance and avoid the strikeouts they could surprise on this slate. Getting to a mix of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe is the core approach but mixing in shares of rookie Jarren Duran and leadoff man Enrique Hernandez is advisable.

Houston Astros

The Astros need a moment’s mention because they are drawing massive power marks in the home run model in a matchup against Eli Morgan and they rank as one of the top teams by probability of success. They will be extremely popular across the industry for the matchup, however, and it is very difficult to roster combinations of Astros hitters with the best pitching, though DraftKings players should take advantage of the lack of respect their peers are showing Yuli Gurriel by not rostering him enough from the middle of this lineup on a daily basis.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies rank near the top of the home run model as well, and they are drawing somewhat less attention on both sites, despite being a popular selection. Philadelphia is still in Yankee Stadium, this time facing Asher Wojciechowski in his first start of the year. He has about a season’s worth of games under his belt, making 34 starts in the show since his debut in 2015. He has a 5.35 xFIP (5.95 ERA) with a 21.5% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate in the sample and is highly targetable with the premium bats on the Phillies roster.

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Jean Segura is projected in his usual leadoff role and he is floating just above 10% popularity on both sites. He has three-way position eligibility on FanDuel, with the ability to land at shortstop, second and third base. On DraftKings he is merely a second baseman. Segura has been excellent this season, slashing .314/.368/.439 over 281 plate appearances with four home runs and six stolen bases. He creates runs 19% ahead of average and does a great job setting the table for the hitters behind him.

J.T. Realmuto lands in the two-spot in the Phillies lineup. He is having another strong season at the plate, slashing .274/.367/.447 with nine home runs and a .174 ISO. He has created runs 21% above average so far this season, making 294 plate appearances to date. He even has five stolen bases on his ledger this season, adding sneaky MLB DFS point scoring ability. For $3,400 on the blue site and $5,000 on DraftKings he is very much in play across the board.

Bryce Harper is one of the day’s leading candidates for a home run. He will be eyeing up the short porch with a low wall in right field, prime home run territory for even mishit balls that would be outs in any other stadium. Harper has hit 15 long balls on the season, and he has an excellent .286/.384/.519 slash with a .233 ISO while creating runs 41% ahead of the average by WRC+. He has even stolen eight bases this season, leading the projected starting lineup. Harper will be popular on FanDuel at $3,900, less so for $5,300 across town; he should not be frequently skipped on either site.

Andrew McCutchen reintroduced himself to Yankees fans with a game-winning home run last night and appears to be in a strong spot but drawing low ownership again tonight. He has a .229 batting average on the season, for those who care about such things, but he is getting on base at a .352 clip and has hit 17 home runs with a .219 ISO while creating runs 16% ahead of the field. McCutchen has shown renewed life in his legs as well, swiping six bags this season. For a cheap price and low popularity, McCutchen is a great play again tonight.

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Rhys Hoskins comes in at under 5% popularity on DraftKings and FanDuel tonight. He costs $5,500 on DraftKings but a mere $3,500 on FanDuel, making the ownership projection somewhat puzzling. Hoskins is slashing .234/.318/.488 on the season and he has hit 21 home runs with a .254 ISO. He creates runs 15% ahead of the average and has a strong chance of knocking one, or even two, out of the yard against this pitching staff. Hoskins is inexplicably under-owned on both sites; he should be rostered far more than how he has been deployed by the public.

Didi Gregorius made a living for the best years of his career hitting home runs into the right field seats in this ballpark. He has a typically solid 19.6% strikeout rate this season, but he is slashing just .214/.266/.393 and creating runs 25% worse than the field. Gregorius has eight home runs and three stolen bases in the small 184 plate appearance sample.

Brad Miller provides positional flexibility at second base and in the outfield on DraftKings but is a first baseman on FanDuel. He will be inexpensive on both sites and is pulling in more ownership for the DraftKings discount. Miller hits from the left side of the plate and provides power upside from late in the lineup. He has hit nine home runs this season, adding three stolen bases in his 187 plate appearances. He has a .200 ISO and creates runs 8% better than most, making him a good play to attach to the back end of stacks.

Ronald Torreyes is a non-hitter who flashes very infrequently for MLB DFS purposes. Torreyes is slashing .271/.305/.389 with just a .118 ISO and creating runs at an 88 WRC+, well behind the curve; he is largely lineup filler in this spot. He has hit three home runs and stolen one base through the season, so he is not entirely devoid of upside, but it would be asking a lot to expect a slate-breaking score.

Travis Jankowski adds another left-handed bat from the bottom of the Phillies lineup. He has one home run and four stolen bases in just 62 plate appearances this year, slashing a robust .360/.458/.480 in the miniscule sample. Jankowski has created runs 57% better than average in his short season. For just $2,300 on FanDuel and $2,200 on DraftKings, Jankowski should not be forgotten.

HR Call: Bryce Harper — Philadelphia Phillies

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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