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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 10/2/21

Terry McBride



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Saturday evening brings the final relevant main slate of the regular season and it should be a contest loaded with offensive point-scoring upside. The slate features only a handful of high-end pitchers and should see a number of excellent opportunities for bats. There are hefty numbers up and down the power index and many players flashing major home run potential on the slate. Getting to a solid mix of bats while focusing on the Top Pitchers Tool for selections on the mound should lead to well-built lineups for tournament play on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

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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: Ketel Marte — 4.84

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 8.85

Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 10.57

Chicago White Sox: Yasmani Grandal — 7.08

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 18.41

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 9.09

Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Schoop — 8.97

Houston Astros: Alex Bregman — 11.81

Kansas City Royals: Andrew Benintendi — 10.33

Los Angeles Angels: Max Stassi — 4.36

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager — 2.49

Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich — 7.81

Minnesota Twins: Mitch Garver — 9.47

New York Mets: Michael Conforto — 12.62

Oakland Athletics: Mark Canha — 8.34

Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger — 11.72

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 12.30

Texas Rangers: Adolis Garcia — 14.19

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.

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

The pitching slate is topped by two premium starters in Corbin Burnes and Lucas Giolito. The pitching full house is completed with a trio of quality arms in decent spots, Julio Urias will be on the other side of the Brewers – Dodgers game, Zac Gallen takes the mound for a home start against the Rockies, and Triston McKenzie has a chance to stand out against the Rangers. Beyond those five options, the board becomes thin and questionable. The top remaining option is likely Carlos Carrasco, who may benefit from facing a Braves lineup that will rest a number of starters again, but the Mets have little reason to push him deep into the game. Chris Flexen has a shot to provide a slate-relevant SP2 score on DraftKings for a bit of a discount from the top options, he is fine but not special in a start against the Angels.

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Burnes takes his Cy Young Award-worthy season to the mound to face the excellent Dodgers lineup. The righty has a massive 35.5% strikeout rate over 165 innings this season, but the Dodgers’ 22.7% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching is the seventh-best mark in baseball this season. Burnes has a lights out 2.29 xFIP and a 0.93 WHIP, he induces a considerable 16.8% swinging-strike rate and has compiled a 33.9% CSW% over the course of the season. He is also fantastic at limiting quality contact, allowing a meager 2.9% barrel rate and a 30.3% hard-hit percentage this season, with just 85.4 mph average exit velocity. The Dodgers wield some of baseball’s best bats to counter that quality, however, they come in with a .180 ISO and a 4.17% home run rate against righties, and they have created runs six percent better than average. This is not the best matchup, but Burnes is easily one of the best pitchers in the league at this point, he warrants significant attention. Burnes is currently tracking for positive leverage across the industry on both sites, he is the top pitching option of the day for tournaments.

Giolito is drawing a massive ownership total. The White Sox righty closes out his excellent season with a home start against the lowly Tigers, with the only question being his overall innings expectation. With Chicago letting Lance Lynn get through six innings last night, and Giolito throwing six in his most recent outing, we can reasonably expect that they will not be severe in any limitation, with six innings and a quality start on the table in addition to a win. The issue with Giolito is only the popularity, he has a top-end 28.2% strikeout rate this season with a 3.73 xFIP and a 15.4% swinging-strike rate. It is fair to argue that he has walked too many at 7.2%, but he has a 1.12 WHIP and has been good with contact, allowing just a 6.4% barrel rate and a 34.1% hard-hit percentage. Giolito is facing a Tigers lineup that has the third-worst strikeout rate in the league against righties, a 25.6% mark that is fourth-worst against pitchers of either hand. The team has a .159 ISO and a 3.35% home run rate that are both below average in the split, and they create runs at a pace eight percent behind the league average by collective WRC+. Giolito has a good chance to lead the way with his MLB DFS point total, but the field’s ownership is double his probability of being a top-two starter on DraftKings and triple his likelihood of posting the best FanDuel score, making it difficult to get to him in similar shares to the public.

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Urias will be on the mound for Los Angeles to duel Burnes. The lefty has had a strong season, he has a 26% strikeout rate over 179.1 innings and has walked just five percent of opposing hitters. Urias has a 3.74 xFIP with a 1.04 WHIP, he has induced an 11.3% swinging-strike rate and has yielded just a 5.5% barrel rate and a 30.1% hard-hit percentage, the latter of which rivals Burnes’ output. Urias will be facing a Brewers lineup that is mostly average against lefties. The active roster has a .167 ISO and a 4.01% home run rate in the split, the home run power is above average, but the overall ISO is squarely in the middle of the league. The Brewers strike out at a 23.2% clip against southpaws and they create runs seven percent behind the average in the split. There is a clear path to quality for Urias on this slate, the Dodgers’ starter is not getting enough attention on either site, particularly on the FanDuel slate where his $8,900 salary is a major discount.

McKenzie has delivered on his anticipated talents to a degree over 23 starts and 116 innings this season, but there are many rough edges to round out before he makes the expected leap to ace status. He has a very good 28.1% strikeout rate, but he has walked far too many at 11.3%. The young righty has a 4.40 xFIP and a 1.16 WHIP but has induced a strong 12.6% swinging-strike rate. he has yielded too much quality contact as well, coming in at a 9.8% barrel rate and 42.3% hard-hit percentage. McKenzie will face a Rangers team that has just a .141 ISO and a 2.98% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season. The active roster has a 23% strikeout rate that sits around the league average and they create runs 16% below league average by collective WRC+. The young Cleveland righty is low-owned and inexpensive on the blue site tonight, he is drawing just 10% popularity for a $9,200 price on DraftKings, getting beyond the field’s expected ownership is a strong play for GPPs.

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Chicago White Sox

The White Sox lead the Top Stacks Tool across both sites but the team is also one of the most negatively leveraged hitting play in MLB DFS this evening. The team will be facing Detroit’s Matt Manning, who has struggled to find his footing over 80.1 innings in 17 starts this season. Manning has just a 13.6% strikeout rate and a 5.29 xFIP with a 1.57 WHIP this season. He has been extremely targetable, walking 8.7% of hitters and inducing just a 6.7% swinging-strike rate, while giving up a 7.8% barrel rate and a 41.1% hard-hit percentage. The White Sox lineup will be an interesting one to watch, they could easily choose to rest hitters who have had numerous injuries through the season. If a lack of stars causes the overall popularity to dip or creates popularity gaps in the lineup it will be to the benefit of MLB DFS gamers who go to this stack. The currently projected version of the lineup is the standard-issue list of stars that includes Tim AndersonLuis RobertJose AbreuYasmani GrandalEloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada. Beyond those options, Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets can both provide significant power upside, and Cesar Hernandez fits into an infield role with a bit of power at an affordable price. Monitoring individual Ownership Projections will be key to getting to unique combinations of White Sox bats on this slate.

Athletics vs Astros

With Paul Blackburn and Jake Odorizzi on the mound for their respective teams, this game is flashing upside for all involved bats. Oakland and Houston stacks are trending for positive leverage from near the top of the board on both sites and both teams should provide excellent opportunities for low-owned MLB DFS point-scoring. Blackburn has thrown 36.1 innings and has a 14.9% strikeout rate with a 4.50 xFIP and a 1.49 xFIP while allowing a 51.6% hard-hit percentage. The Astros are an All-Star team, they can be rostered from one through eight in most configurations. The team has Michael Brantley back in the projected lineup, and stars like Jose AltuveAlex BregmanYordan Alvarez, the one-last-time underappreciated Yuli GurrielCarlos Correa, and Chas McCormick to surround him. Martin Maldonado is an afterthought where catchers are not required. On the other side, Odorizzi has a 20.9% strikeout rate over 100 innings in 22 starts this year. He has yielded a 9.4% barrel rate and 39.3% hard-hit percentage and has pitched to a 4.79 xFIP and 1.23 WHIP with just a 23.8% CSW%. The Athletics have significant power and a fair amount of speed, as well as some excellent hit-tool players. Getting to stacks that include Josh HarrisonStarling MarteMatt OlsonMark Canha, and Matt Chapman as the focus is a strong GPP play on both sites. The core of players will be owned at low rates, Olson’s 7.8% mark on FanDuel is currently the highest across sites for any hitter on this team. The balance of the Athletics’ lineup can provide upside as well, both Seth Brown and Sean Murphy have sneaky power upside, while Tony Kemp has been solid all season for run creation, posting a 123 WRC+ over his 388 plate appearances while slashing .270/.378/.404. Khris Davis is in the projected lineup, he is slashing .196/.266/.330 with just two home runs and a .134 ISO this season, making him a tough play even at his low prices.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals roared through the second half of the season, somehow surging to 90 wins and counting and a locked-in Wild Card position in the playoffs. St. Louis’ active roster has been excellent against lefties but just average against right-handed pitching this season. They have a .158 ISO and a 3.50% home run rate that rank in the middle of the league while creating runs six percent worse than average. They have been good at putting the ball in play, however, with just a 22.2% strikeout rate in the split. Fortunately, the righty they will be facing should lend significant upside to those numbers, Adrian Sampson has thrown 31.1 innings in four starts, he has a 16.5% strikeout rate, and has allowed a 42.1% hard-hit percentage with a 10.5% barrel rate that should play into St. Louis’ talents.

Tommy Edman has managed to create runs 11% worse than league average over the course of the season, despite mostly leading off in front of several excellent run producers. Edman is slashing .269/.306/.381 with 10 home runs and 29 stolen bases this year, he has just a .121 ISO and barrels the ball only 4.2% of the time, but he is effective for MLB DFS point-scoring with his speed and lineup positioning. Edman also comes in at a low salary for $3,200 on FanDuel, where he also has multi-position eligibility between second base and the outfield. For $5,100 on DraftKings where he can only play at second base, he is less appealing but can be included in full stacks.

Paul Goldschmidt has a 50.1% hard-hit percentage and a 13.6% barrel rate this season. He is slashing .294/.366/.514 and has a .220 ISO while creating runs 38% better than average. The first baseman has hit 31 home runs and he is good at keeping the ball in play with just a 20% strikeout rate. Goldschmidt is drawing a strong power mark in my home run model, he is under-owned for his discounted $4,600 price on the DraftKings slate, there is no universe in which Edman should cost more than his teammate. On the blue site, Goldschmidt is easy to roster at $4,100.

Tyler O’Neill has major power upside and has provided an excellent triple-slash this season. His .284/.349/.557 year is actually somewhat unexpected, O’Neill was regarded as more of a three true outcomes hitter during his development but the hit tool has really come on strong; he still strikes out in 31.3% of his plate appearances but walks in just 7.2%. O’Neill is underpriced on FanDuel and at the right mark on DraftKings, where he is projected for less than three percent ownership.

Third baseman Nolan Arenado has hit 34 home runs and posted a .241 ISO while creating runs 13% better than average for the Cardinals this season. He is slashing .254/.311/.495, a bit of a letdown across the board, but the power and run creation marks are above average and he is fairly priced and owned for MLB DFS purposes. Arenado strikes out just 14.6% of the time but he has struggled with quality contact, he has an uncharacteristic 6.8% barrel rate and just a 37.1% hard-hit percentage.

Switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson has just a 30.6% hard-hit percentage this season, but he has managed 18 home runs in 612 plate appearances. Carlson is slashing .264/.340/.438 with a .173 ISO and he has created runs 12% better than average. With a 24.5% strikeout rate, Carlson is not the most reliable hitter in this lineup, but he can clearly provide MLB DFS production and he is priced in the low $3,000s on both sites.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina winds down another excellent season with a playoff run. The current last man in the chain of catching Molinas has posted a .254/.299/.374 season over 499 plate appearances, he has hit 11 home runs and even stolen three bases, though his WRC+ falls 15% short of the league average overall. Molina is not a popular play, the upside is somewhat limited but there is plenty of room and a fair price for those inclined to include him on both sites.

Infielder Edmundo Sosa is slashing .277/.350/397 over 319 plate appearances and has created runs seven percent ahead of the league average this season. Sosa has a limited 31.1% hard-hit percentage and a four percent barrel rate this year, but he is a hit-tool-oriented player who is good for correlation given the ability to get on base and wrap around to the stack’s top hitters. Sosa is a low-cost low-popularity play for GPP purposes, he is not a go-to option but he can be owned beyond the field and will help offset any pricing concerns.

Finally, Harrison Bader is playable from the eight spot, or higher, in the lineup as well. Bader is slashing .267/.323/.465 with 15 home runs and nine stolen bases in just 393 plate appearances. He is a sneaky quality play for MLB DFS scoring potential, he has crated runs eight percent ahead of the curve and has a .189 ISO this season. Those numbers warrant more than a $2,900 salary on DraftKings and $3,200 on the blue site, but here we are, fire away with Bader shares, he makes a clean end to mid-lineup stacks or can be deployed as a wraparound.

HR Call: Matt Olson — Oakland Athletics

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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