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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 10/1/21

Terry McBride



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This 14-game Friday figures to be the final full slate of the season, with a split MLB DFS day tomorrow and major competition from other sports on Sunday, the final day of the regular season. The pitching selection seems stronger through the middle than at the top before giving way to several arms toward the bottom of the salary spectrum that can be targeted with hitting stacks. With significant ownership on just a few specific stacks, there is an opportunity in spreading out hitting shares to cover a broad range of outcomes. The Top Stacks Tool will be critical in determining the best MLB DFS plays relative to popularity and probability of success. Let’s get into some of the top home run options and best MLB DFS picks for DraftKings and FanDuel lineups today.

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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 design, based on a blend of several predictive statistics for the batter-pitcher matchup, I will give each team one of the top choices. However, it will not always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star in that spot every day.

Home Run Ratings

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

Arizona Diamondbacks: David Peralta — 4.74

Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman — 8.65

Baltimore Orioles: Cedric Mullins — 10.24

Boston Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec — 12.43

Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras — 6.52

Chicago White Sox: Eloy Jimenez — 13.22

Cleveland Indians: Jose Ramirez — 10.41

Colorado Rockies: C.J. Cron — 7.48

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera — 5.94

Houston Astros: Carlos Correa — 6.63

Kansas City Royals: Carlos Santana — 3.23

Los Angeles Angels: Jack Mayfield — 8.14

Los Angeles Dodgers: Mookie Betts — 10.56

Miami Marlins: Alex Jackson — 3.73

Milwaukee Brewers: Eduardo Escobar — 7.99

Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson — 14.10

New York Mets: Pete Alonso — 12.62

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo — 11.78

Oakland Athletics: Matt Chapman — 4.80

Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 5.40

San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer — 6.85

San Francisco Giants: Mike Yastrzemski — 8.65

Seattle Mariners: Abraham Toro — 6.64

St. Louis Cardinals: Paul DeJong — 10.40

Tampa Bay Rays: Mike Zunino — 10.44

Texas Rangers: Nate Lowe — 16.99

Toronto Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez — 12.53

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 10.54

Power Index

This is intended to capture the full range of home run 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 Picks: 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 Awesemo Ownership Projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

On the Hill

Tonight’s slate features a number of pitchers who could post the top score of the evening. The Top Pitchers Tool reveals a board with a plateau of quality toward the top, all of whom have similar probabilities of landing as a top-scoring pitcher. Near the top of the list across the industry, Lance Lynn leads the way with a start against lowly Detroit, while young Ranger Suarez will look to continue his terrific debut in a major upside spot against Miami. Clayton Kershaw is a major name recognition candidate, but he has been limited for length in recent outings and may not face enough hitters to post a truly dominant score. Still, Kershaw ranks among the daily leaders in his start against Milwaukee. Nestor Cortes is still affordable and will be low owned, but his Yankees are facing a talented Rays team. The Mets will be facing Huascar Ynoa who is similarly priced and under-owned. Eduardo Rodriguez will be on the mound for the Red Sox, facing the lowly Nationals, but he will be extremely popular for the opportunity. The slate runs out of steam around that mark, but potential quality can be found in pitchers, including Sandy Alcantara, Steven Matz, Anthony DeSclafani and Sean Manaea.

Kershaw has not pitched in the sixth inning since going on the injured list in June. He has made three appearances since his return, going 4.1, five and 4.1 innings. The five-inning start was a strong one in which Kershaw posted eight strikeouts against the Reds, but the others were not enough to provide the necessary MLB DFS upside. Adding in the lack of a probable opportunity for a win or quality start bonus. Kershaw has a 2.86 xFIP and a 29.9% strikeout rate over 120 innings in 20 starts, but the Dodgers have their eyes on the World Series and Kershaw will be more valuable over the next few weeks, even with the team still chasing San Francisco for the division crown. Los Angeles seems likely to limit Kershaw, but his matchup is reasonable overall. He will be facing a Brewers team that has a .168 ISO and a 4.06% home run rate in the split but creates runs 7% worse than average and strikes out at a sub-par 23.2% in the split. If he gets enough time on the mound, Kershaw is likely to be relevant.

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Lynn went six innings in his most recent outing, but the White Sox remain firmly entrenched in their playoff position, and there is little reason for the team to push him in a meaningless start against Detroit. The Tigers have a ludicrous 25.6% strikeout rate against righties, they create runs 10% worse than average in the split and have just a .162 ISO and a 3.71% home run rate that fall around the league average. Lynn can manage a slate-relevant score even without pitching through six innings in this one. He has a 27.6% strikeout rate with a 3.78 xFIP and a 1.07 WHIP over 152 innings this year. His workload is small relative to what Lynn has posted in recent seasons, so there is no true need to rest him in this situation. Assuming he sees a standard workload, Lynn is likely to be the top-scoring pitcher of the evening, but he will be popular on the slate as well.

Rodriguez comes at lower overall ownership but more negative leverage than Lynn. He is in a high-quality matchup, with the Red Sox facing the lousy Nationals lineup in a National League park. Rodriguez has had a rocky season for runs, as has been documented in this space throughout the season. He comes into tonight with a 4.93 ERA but a 3.42 xFIP and a 3.35 FIP. He is suffering from a ridiculously high .365 batting average on balls in play and has just a 67.6% strand rate, two things that are largely out of his control. He has a 27.4% strikeout rate with a 6.8% walk percentage, induces an 11.8% swinging-strike rate and allows just a 7.1% barrel rate with a 34.1% hard-hit percentage. Rodriguez will be facing a Nationals roster that benefits on our team stats board from several players with small statistical samples. The current form of the active roster technically has just a 21.4% strikeout rate and creates runs 4% better than average against lefties, with a 3.45% home run rate and a .166 ISO in the split. The team has Juan Soto, Josh Bell and not much more in the lineup. Rodriguez is negatively leveraged but not crushingly popular overall.

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Cortes has a 4.18 xFIP and a 1.08 WHIP while inducing a 10% swinging-strike rate and compiling a below-average 26.4% CSW. Cortes has limited barrels to a 6.9% rate and has allowed just a 35.9% hard-hit percentage this season, but he has a significant home run trajectory with a 23.5-degree average launch angle allowed. Cortes has outpitched his talent this season. For his career, he has now thrown 167.1 innings in the majors and has pitched to a 4.68 ERA and a 4.74 xFIP with a 5.15 FIP. Cortes has allowed a 5.11% home run rate (1.99 HR/9) for his career, marks that include his 3.65% rate from this season, a sample that represents half of his career innings. Cortes last had a strikeout rate this high in 2016 in A-ball. The opposing Rays are better against right-handed pitching, but they still create runs 10% better than average against lefties and have a league-average 3.69% home run rate and a .172 ISO. The team does strike out at a 24.2% clip in the split, but in a start at Yankee Stadium, there is home run upside.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are the most negatively leveraged offense on the board, and it is not particularly close this evening. The team is on the road in Kansas City to face righty Jon Heasley, who has a 13.5% strikeout rate over his first two starts and 9.1 innings this season. He had a 4.24 xFIP and a 4.59 FIP over 105.1 innings in Double-A this year. The Twins lineup has a 4.18% home run rate and a .185 ISO against righties this season, they strike out 23.4% of the time. The team creates runs at the league average in the split, they are not a standout offense, but the spot against a minor league pitcher is obviously strong. Go-to Twins bats are all going to be over-owned on both sites, but the list includes Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano. Additional quality can be found in either catcher, Ryan Jeffers and Mitch Garver both have power upside, while Nick Gordon provides some speed and Andrelton Simmons and Luis Arraez bookend the lineup with quality hit tools and low strikeout rates. It is a challenge to roster this stack in unique combinations this evening.


The Cleveland baseball team will be facing Spencer Howard, a promising young right-handed pitcher who has yet to find his footing at this level after rocketing through the Phillies system before being shipped to Texas for Kyle Gibson, in a move that Philadelphia is likely to regret. He has a 23.9% strikeout rate over his 46 innings in 14 starts this season, but he has yielded far too many free passes, coming in with an 11.5% rate. Howard has a bumpy 4.78 xFIP and a 1.57 WHIP, but his 11% swinging-strike rate is strong. Howard has a 6.8% barrel rate and a 34.1% hard-hit percentage for the season. The Cleveland active roster has been average at best against righties this season. The team has a .165 ISO and a 3.66% home run rate in the split, they create runs 7% behind the curve and strike out 24% of the time. Still, with minimal ownership on some of the prime bats in the lineup, there is reason to get to positively leveraged bats in this situation. Go-to hitters include Amed Rosario, Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes, Bobby Bradley and Harold Ramirez. Harold Ramirez strikes out just 15.3% of the time and has a 47% hard-hit percentage despite just a 6.5% barrel rate. Additional bats to consider for stacks include Bradley Zimmer, Andres Gimenez and Myles Straw.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are coming up with positive leverage and low overall popularity on the Top Stacks board once again. The team will be facing an unannounced Cubs pitcher, which may take the form of several bullpen arms. These could potentially include Adbert Alzolay for a few innings, but there are several contenders for the opportunity to pitch. Alzolay has been working multi-inning relief out of the bullpen in recent weeks. The Cardinals’ active roster has been better against lefties than righties, but they have quality bats and have been far more productive through their winning second half than they were to start the year. Go-to Cardinals bats include three obvious names in Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill. Adding Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong to the mix provides a wide range of mid-level power, some speed and a broad spectrum of positioning and salary with which to work. All of the Cardinals hitters are projected for less than 3% popularity across both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight.

Tampa Bay Rays

Given the numbers reviewed above for Cortes, there are reasonable expectations for quality from the Rays’ powerful lineup this evening. Tampa Bay is ranked near the top of the board for its probability of success, and they are coming in with positive leverage on both sites. The low-owned hitters up and down the lineup can be rostered in most configurations in this start, they will benefit from a park boost in Yankee Stadium. The team is likely to orient toward right-handed bats, but various changes to this projected lineup can be swapped in and out depending on who starts.

Yandy Diaz slots in at third for $3,900 on DraftKings and $3,200 on FanDuel, where he has first and third base eligibility. Diaz has a .258/.353/.391 triple-slash with a .133 ISO. He creates runs 12% better than average despite the lack of significant extra-base power. He has just a 15.8% strikeout rate this season and walks 12.6% of the time. Diaz is an easy way to get a Rays stack rolling on both sites.

Wander Franco has 293 plate appearances this season, dealing with an injury absence in the middle. Franco is slashing .286/.348/.470 with a .184 ISO and seven home runs. He has stolen two bases this season and is creating runs 29% better than league average by WRC+. Franco should be included in far more than the 1% of public rosters for which he is projected.

The Rays are facing a lefty in Yankee Stadium, and Nelson Cruz has a career 6% home run rate against left-handed pitching. That is all.

Randy Arozarena is slashing .273/.353/.460 with a .188 ISO and has created runs 27% better than average in 2021. He strikes out at an inflated 27.8% rate, but he has a solid 42.2% hard-hit percentage and draws a walk in 9% of his plate appearances. Arozarena is not nearly popular enough for his discounted salary across MLB DFS.

Manuel Margot has 10 home runs and swiped 13 bags, but he comes into the night creating runs 5% below average overall. Margot has just a 14.8% strikeout rate, but he only has a 4.9% barrel rate and a 40.1% hard-hit percentage. Margot is priced at just $3,200 on DraftKings and $2,200 on FanDuel, making him the most popular Rays bat on both sites.

Brandon Lowe has a 43.1% hard-hit percentage, 13.5% barrel rate and 11.2% walk rate this season, which is good because he also strikes out 27.2% of the time. Lowe has translated the quality contact into 36 home runs and a terrific .264 ISO while creating runs 33% better than average. He is slashing .243/.338/.508 and is the epitome of what non-evolved baseball minds dislike about the modern game. Most of Lowe’s power does come against righties, however; he has a 6.62% home run rate against opposite-handed pitching and a 4.37% rate against fellow southpaws. With no public popularity, it is easy to exceed the field’s ownership. It is worth noting that Lowe stands a good chance to see at least one plate appearance against a bullpen arm as well.

Joey Wendle is slashing .269/.323/.428 with a .159 ISO, but he creates runs 8% better than average. Wendle slots in as a third baseman or shortstop on both sites and is another discounted bat in this lineup. While he is not a go-to play, he is fine to include in stacks where he can help offset price and any scraps of popularity.

Mike Zunino has a 24.5% barrel rate that leads baseball among hitters with 350 plate appearances. Zunino has 32 home runs, a .343 ISO and has created runs 33% better than average this season. Salvador Perez has rightly gotten all of the attention this season, but Perez’s total comes in 286 more plate appearances. Zunino is a terrific option at the position any time he is in the lineup.

Brett Phillips is capable of delivering a combination of mid-range power and speed. Over 292 plate appearances, he has 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases despite slashing .202/.297/.415. Phillips has a .213 ISO and has created runs 1% behind the average by WRC+. He also strikes out a ridiculous 38.7% of the time. For the dead minimum on both sites, Phillips’ talent in the counting stats is easily worth the roster spot when there is less than 1% of the public on him.

HR Call: Willie Calhoun — Texas Rangers

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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