Friday brings a full playoff slate that sees all eight teams in action. The playoff format means that there are eight excellent pitching options but also consequently very unpredictable hitting situations. With every lineup facing an ace or at least a premium starter and a quality bullpen, finding the right offense is a more difficult trick in the playoffs than during the regular season. Utilizing the Top Stacks Tool to find the best MLB DFS stacks for tournament leverage and upside is the best way to cut through the noise and find the best MLB DFS lineup picks for DraftKings and FanDuel. Individual Ownership Projections are also critical for locating a few lower-owned hitters to help differentiate lineup builds, despite more selection there are several highly concentrated pools of ownership and several excellent spots to gain ground on the field, for those willing to embrace the risk.
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
Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall — 2.67
Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts — 10.28
Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu — 5.45
Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez — 10.14
Los Angeles Dodgers: Mookie Betts — 5.03
Milwaukee Brewers: Willy Adames — 4.68
San Francisco Giants: Kris Bryant — 5.54
Tampa Bay Rays: Jordan Luplow — 8.91
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.
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
With four games on the slate, MLB DFS gamers have a bit more room to spread out pitching shares, though ownership is concentrated around a few plays. Every pitcher on the slate has point-scoring upside, so it makes sense to pay a significant amount of attention to the leverage metric in our Top Pitchers Tool. This will give us an idea of where some ground can be gained on the field, for example, Corbin Burnes is a spectacular pitching option on any slate, but he is drawing nearly 65% ownership, an undercut to that mark is warranted in any tournament situation, though Burnes should still be rostered heavily. Burnes was spectacular all season, throwing 167 innings and striking out 35.6% of hitters while pitching to a 2.30 xFIP, but the opposing Braves have massive power, they led the entire league in home run rate against righties this year. On the other side of that contest, Atlanta’s Charlie Morton has had a terrific season of his own, throwing 185.2 innings in 33 starts, striking out 28.6% and limiting barrels to just a 4.9% rate with a 32.5% hard-hit percentage. Morton also benefits from facing an offense that was average at best in power categories and below average in strikeout rate and run creation.
The slate’s most positively leveraged pitcher is Lucas Giolito of the White Sox, though he faces a daunting task in Houston’s fantastic lineup. Giolito had a 27.9% strikeout rate and a 7.2% walk rate on the season, and he induced an excellent 15.3% swinging-strike rate. For tournament play, the massive leverage that Giolito provides should not be ignored, this is not a play that needs to succeed frequently over the course of time to be highly profitable when it connects. The ownership on Giolito is far too low across both DraftKings and FanDuel; he is a tournament priority despite the difficult matchup. The White Sox loaded lineup is facing groundball specialist Framber Valdez. Valdez had an astounding 70.3% ground ball rate for the season, but he struck out just 21.9% of opposing hitters and walked an unsightly 10.1%. Against a White Sox team that was 13% better than average for run creation across the course of the season, those are untenable marks. Valdez is a difficult ask in terms of pitching shares and someone who can be targeted with a positively leveraged stack in tournaments.
One of the most popular plays on the DraftKings slate is Boston’s Chris Sale, who is pulling in nearly 40% ownership for his low $6,700 salary. He has not been at peak form and has been pitching through short outings since his return from an extended injury absence. Sale’s strikeout rate was 28.4% across his 42.2 innings in nine starts at the end of the season, a mark that is still good but not the elite 35% level at which he once pitched. Between the risk of innings limitation and the reasonable questions about quality, it is difficult to roster Sale to the same degree as the public. On the other side of the game, rookie Shane Baz comes in at low overall ownership. He threw just 13.1 innings in three starts at the Major League level, but he was mostly excellent, pitching to a 36.7% strikeout rate and a 2.86 xFIP with a microscopic 0.68 WHIP in the sample. Baz is inexpensive and unpopular across both sites, but he does face a Red Sox lineup that had a .208 ISO, a 4.57% home run rate and a 111 WRC+ against right-handed pitching while striking out just 22.8% of the time this season. This is a very tall order for Baz, who may be pulled early as the by-the-numbers Rays get into their excellent bullpen.
Perhaps the best matchup of the day comes in the nightcap. Somehow, despite more than a century of shared history, this is the first time that the Dodgers and Giants will play a postseason series. The two teams battled in three-game tie-breaker series in both 1951 and 1962 to decide the National League crown, but those are not considered postseason play. Prior to that, the only other meeting was in the 1889 World Series between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The blood rivals will open their first-ever playoff series with two excellent pitchers on the mound, Walker Buehler had a terrific season, though he flagged slightly toward the end, potentially showing signs of fatigue after a career-high 207.2 innings pitched. Buehler finished with a 26% strikeout rate and a 3.57 xFIP as well as a 0.97 WHIP this season. He is projected for positive leverage against a Giants offense that has been excellent all year. The team has a 111 WRC+ against right-handed pitching and they hit for power with a 4.45% home run rate and a .200 ISO in the split, though there are strikeouts available, San Francisco’s active roster had a below-average 24% strikeout rate on the season. Buehler is a spot on which I am looking to press ownership beyond the field, though there are clear questions. On the other side, Logan Webb has been excellent in a breakout campaign. He threw 148.1 innings in 26 starts, pitching to a solid 26.5% strikeout rate and walking just 6% of hitters. He had a 2.79 xFIP on the season and induced a 12.4% swinging-strike rate. He allowed a 38.8% hard-hit rate that is slightly higher than one would like, but he limited barrels to just 5.6% and the contact came at an average launch angle of -0.5 degrees, meaning everything gets hit into the ground instead of into the stands. The opposing Dodgers created runs 6% better than average and had a 4.20% home run rate against righties this season. This game is an all-four-sides play for a full slate of 150 lineups.
With excellent pitching up and down the slate, it is difficult to pinpoint offenses with the 10-run upside typically needed to win a massive field GPP. On this slate, with all of the run totals at least two runs lower than they were in the summer, gamers have to alter expectations about what is required for victory on a slate of this nature. Playing the leverage game and looking through ownership at the individual level is highly informative about where many of the slate’s best plays are. Getting to combinations of positively leveraged bats along with a mix of the available pitchers is a strong approach to this slate.
The Braves are an easy target for leverage. The team is facing by far the slate’s highest-owned pitcher on both the blue site and DraftKings. Burnes is excellent and he seems extremely likely to have a typically strong outing before handing off to the equally capable Milwaukee bullpen. Still, the Braves led all of baseball with a 4.80% home run rate against right-handed pitching, the league’s best mark against pitchers of either hand, and they had a .202 ISO on the season. There is plenty of power available, even if the team lacks major sequential hitting upside. Getting to positively leveraged shares of hitters like Jorge Soler, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Adam Duvall is a strong start. Freddie Freeman is drawing some popularity but is easily playable in combinations, and the bottom of the lineup offers three solid plays in Eddie Rosario, Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were a strong stacking option against lefty Eduardo Rodriguez yesterday and they pop right back up for positive leverage on this slate, facing Sale. Tampa Bay created runs 12% better than average against southpaws this season, though the active roster’s power marks are only around the league average at a 3.81% home run rate and a .176 ISO in the split. The Rays have a deadly power hitter in Nelson Cruz, who as mentioned yesterday has better than a 6.1% home run rate against lefties for his career. Crus is joined by Randy Arozarena, who got right back into playoff form with a titanic home run last night. Arozarena is in a multi-way tie with 11 home runs in 19 postseason games, one behind the 12 that Babe Ruth managed in a 19-game stretch from the 1920s to 1930s. Other likely Rays bats include Wander Franco, Yandy Diaz, Jordan Luplow, Manuel Margo and Mike Zunino. The Rays have several left-handed hitters who play somewhat rotationally against southpaw starters, but either Austin Meadows or Brandon Lowe can slot into a lineup at low ownership, particularly given the narrative of a potentially short outing by Sale leading to plate appearances against the bullpen.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox lead today’s slate on the Top Stacks Tool by both their probability of success and leverage. The team is surprisingly under-owned against arguably the worst starting pitcher on the board. Chicago’s lineup is loaded from one through six, with viable plays on the backend as well. The lineup opens with Tim Anderson, who had a 17-18 season in home runs and stolen bases that would have easily been another 20-20 campaign had he not missed time. Luis Robert, who was drawing comparisons to Mike Trout that came off as only slightly ludicrous during yesterday’s broadcast, is an excellent option from the second spot in the lineup. Robert made just 296 plate appearances but slashed .338/.378/.576 with 13 home runs while creating runs 57% better than average. Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jimenez provide a massive amount of power through the middle of this lineup. In 1,265 combined plate appearances the trio hit 63 home runs and a 4.98% home run rate that was likely cut into by the recovery from injuries for both Grandal and Jimenez. Jimenez latter saw just 231 plate appearances but hit 10 home runs. Andrew Vaughn has been underappreciated by the MLB DFS community all season. He has an excellent prospect pedigree and he managed 15 home runs over 469 plate appearances this season, while constantly coming up at a fair price across the industry. Vaughn is joined by Leury Garcia and Adam Engel at the bottom of the lineup. Engel made just 140 plate appearances this season, but he has sneaky quality both for individual pop and to turn the lineup over. Engel hit seven home runs and had a .244 ISO in the small sample while slashing .252/.336/.496 and creating runs 27% better than average. He will be owned well below the 5% mark on the DraftKings slate and just slightly above it on the blue site.
HR Call: Nelson Cruz — Tampa Bay Rays
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