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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 9/30/21

Terry McBride



DraftKings MLB DFS picks today FanDuel DFS baseball lineup optimizer projections rankings stacks DFS baseball strategy

Thursday MLB DFS action features a surprisingly robust slate, with nine games lined up for the evening. The slate is quite short on premium pitching options at the very top of the board, but there are a few apex starters available and a broad enough mid-range that MLB DFS lineups can come together in interesting ways with the number of quality stacking situations available. The slate features several games with similar profiles on the board in Vegas, 8.5 runs, and a relatively tight spread with almost entirely home favorites. There are several spots that look to have explosive power potential and a surprising team leading the way on tonight’s power index for home run probability. Getting to a diverse spread of lineups should be easy enough on a slate such as this, there are more than enough discounted options from team to team that most desired MLB DFS stacks can be reached with minimal effort. Utilizing the Top Stacks Tool to help with MLB DFS lineup picks is the best bet for creating a strong pool of entries.

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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: Daulton Varsho — 18.39

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley — 7.62

Baltimore Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle — 10.39

Boston Red Sox: J.D. Martinez — 13.75

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 16.70

Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candelario — 7.03

Houston Astros: Alex Bregman — 1.58

Kansas City Royals: Hunter Dozier — 4.12

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy — 13.21

Miami Marlins: Jesus Sanchez — 6.47

Minnesota Twins: Brent Rooker — 14.37

New York Mets: Francisco Lindor — 11.82

New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton — 17.90

Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller — 4.35

San Diego Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. — 7.20

San Francisco Giants: Evan Longoria — 10.12

Tampa Bay Rays: Nelson Cruz — 6.29

Toronto Blue Jays: Bo Bichette — 5.08

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.

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On the Hill

For a slate with 18 options, the pitching board is somewhat thin at the top. The obvious ace on the board is Toronto’s Robbie Ray, though he will be challenged by a Yankees lineup with plenty of strikeouts available, but also massive power potential. The other top pitcher on name recognition would be Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, but he is extremely likely to be limited again this evening. Lance McCullers will take the mound for the Astros in a challenging situation against the Rays, Rich Hill has a chance to shine against the lowly Marlins, Nick Pivetta could post a strong outing against the Orioles, and Corey Kluber could provide sneaky value at a low price and strong positive leverage.

Ray is pitching for the American League Cy Young Award on Thursday night after Yankees starter Gerrit Cole stumbled in last night’s game. He has been featured in this space throughout the season, with initial skepticism eventually fading to belief in his amazing turnaround in key aspects of the game like cutting his walk rate from the mid-13% range to just 6.7% for the season. Ray has also struck out 32.5% of hitters while pitching to a 3.24 xFIP with a 1.04 WHIP this season. He has a massive 15.6% swinging-strike rate and a 29.7% CSW for the year. Ray does have a similar weakness to some other ace-caliber starters, allowing a 9.1% barrel rate and a 42.6% hard-hit percentage on the season, coming at a 17.2-degree average launch angle with 90.3 mph average exit velocity. This is where the Yankees lineup comes into play. The team’s projected lineup features four hitters who barrel the ball more in more than 15% of batted-ball events (BBE), with Gary Sanchez just outside of that range at 13.9%. The average hard-hit rate for the projected lineup is 45.8% and several hitters are well above 50%, including Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who rank first and fourth in all of baseball in the statistic. Ray stands to benefit from the 23.3% strikeout rate that the Yankees active roster has against southpaws this season, but the team creates runs 15% better than average and has a 4.54% home run rate and .174 ISO in the split. Ray is the clear top option for MLB DFS point-scoring probability and should be rostered accordingly. On the blue site, he is going under-owned and warrants more shares than the field is currently drawing.

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McCullers brings a 27.3% strikeout rate to the mound this evening in a tough contest against the high-end Rays lineup. McCullers has struggled with walks through the season, allowing an unsustainable 11.3% walk rate and accumulating a 1.24 WHIP. He has still pitched to a 3.17 ERA and a 3.68 xFIP with an 11.6% swinging-strike rate and a quality 31.4% CSW, so the walks have not hurt him significantly. McCullers has limited barrels to a 5.3% rate, but he has allowed a 40.3% hard-hit percentage and 90 mph average exit velocity. All of that comes on a 5.7-degree average launch angle that makes it difficult to hit home runs. McCullers stands a strong chance of putting up a good start but needs to pitch efficiently to stay in the game long enough for a slate leading MLB DFS score. Tampa Bay’s active roster is good against righties; however, the team comes in with a .204 ISO and a 4.59% home run rate in the split and they create runs 15% better than average while striking out 24% of the time. The whiffs could boost McCullers, but if he walks too many, he could get into trouble quickly or need to use up too much of his pitch count early in the game. He is negatively leveraged on both DraftKings and FanDuel, but not damagingly so.

Kluber has not pitched deep into games of late, though he did make it through six innings against Cleveland two starts ago. Since coming back from injury at the end of August, he has made starts of three to four innings, but the Yankees want him fully stretched out for the playoffs. In his most recent outing, Kluber only made it through 4.1 innings, but he faced 21 hitters, which would get him into the sixth in a better outing. Kluber has delivered surprising quality when he has been healthy this season, pitching to a 25% strikeout rate and a 4.29 xFIP, though he has walked too many at 10%. He has a 1.31 WHIP but induces a 12.4% swinging-strike rate and has the ability to get himself out of jams. Kluber has allowed just a 35% hard-hit rate and a 6.9% barrel rate this season, but he is facing a ridiculously talented Blue Jays lineup. Toronto’s active roster has a .200 ISO and a 4.70% home run rate against right-handed pitching this season. They strike out at a league-leading 20% rate while creating runs 13% better than average in the split. There is clear upside in getting to Kluber with significant positive leverage in GPPs, but this is by no means a safe play.

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A night after Taijuan Walker pitched into the eighth inning while giving up just two hits and two runs to the lowly Marlins, teammate Rich Hill will take the mound to attempt to repeat the trick for the MLB DFS community. Walker was ludicrously popular on last night’s slate and the same will be true for Hill this evening. He is already drawing more than 50% popularity on the DraftKings slate according to Ownership Projections. Miami’s roster is equally bad against both hands, creating runs exactly 20% worse than average by WRC+ against both righties and lefties. The Marlins have a 2.71% home run rate and a .134 ISO against lefties while striking out 26.6% of the time, which ties the Cubs’ performance against righties for the worst mark in baseball against either hand. Hill was firmly entrenched in the “crafty old lefty” role a half-decade ago. At age 41, he gets by entirely on guile, which is telling in his 4.66 xFIP. He has a 9.8% swinging-strike rate and a quality 30.5% CSW, both around the league average, and he has been good at managing contact. Hill has allowed an 8.7% barrel rate but just a 34.8% hard-hit percentage this season. He is inexpensive but explosively popular across the industry, it is difficult to get to him anywhere near as frequently as the public, despite the obviously strong spot.

Boston Red Sox

Good news, despite their gigantic popularity numbers, the Red Sox are at slightly positive leverage on the DraftKings slate this evening. The team is drawing a bit negative on the blue site, but they are playable across the industry. Boston’s lineup against that pitching staff in that ballpark is a recipe for major run-scoring potential. This evening’s game is no exception, the Red Sox will be facing lefty Alex Wells, who has managed just a 13.7% strikeout rate over 36.2 innings in seven starts at the Major League level. Wells has yielded an 8.2% barrel rate and a 47% hard-hit percentage this season, he has a 6.08 xFIP and a 1.75 WHIP. The Red Sox likely lineup remains the same and is playable from top to bottom. Key hitters include Hunter Renfroe, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo, and Bobby Dalbec. Among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances this season, Dalbec’s barrel rate sits third best in baseball at 20.2%. Ahead of him are only Shohei Ohtani in first at 22% and Fernando Tatis Jr. at 21.6%, behind him are Joey Gallo at 18.6% and Bryce Harper at 17.9%. Dalbec 47.9% hard-hit percentage is tied for 29th in the same sample.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks’ lousy lineup is leading the power index because of the numbers that Scott Kazmir has managed in his return to Major League mounds. He shocked everyone by making it all the way back after not pitching in the league for several years, but he has put up just a 20.4% strikeout rate thus far while allowing a 14.3% barrel rate and a massive 51.4% hard-hit percentage. Kazmir went four innings in his most recent start, so the expectation should be that he is set for a normal outing, or at least as long of one as he is able to manage. The Diamondbacks are drawing major power marks and project well in the model but are coming up differently in the site’s Top Stacks Tool, where they justifiably continue to rank near the bottom of the board. Arizona’s active roster shows surprisingly quality against left-handed pitching for the season though, they have a .166 ISO and just a 21.2% strikeout rate in the split while creating runs exactly at league average by collective WRC+. They have just a 2.93% home run rate in the split, however, which adds to skepticism about their massive home run marks even in an easy matchup. Given their low ranking on the stacks board, Arizona comes up as a negatively leveraged play, but their aggregate ownership is a mere 5%. Key Arizona bats include Josh Rojas, Ketel Marte, Daulton Varsho, Kole Calhoun, and Carson Kelly. Additional quality can be found in David Peralta, Pavin Smith, and Josh VanMeter and the team offers a number of multi-position players who can be mixed and matched in interesting ways on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are drawing a ton of popularity on this slate. The power-hitting club will be facing lefty Tarik Skubal who has allowed a 13.2% barrel rate and a 44.3% hard-hit percentage this season. Skubal is a talented pitcher who has struck out 26.4% of hitters, but he has a 5.18% home run rate for the season that is a major target. Getting to Twins in unique combinations will be difficult on this slate, they come in at extreme negative leverage marks across both sites. If Brent Rooker is in the middle of the lineup he is drawing surprisingly low ownership for the cost, one would expect a $2,300 DraftKings player on the second-most popular team of the night to pull in more than 12% ownership ($2,200 and 11.3% popular on FanDuel). Rooker has a 46.8% hard-hit percentage and an 11.7% barrel rate this season and is worth attention in Twins stacks if others do not roster him enough. Still, this is not enough to offset the major popularity on hitters like Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano, who will all be owned to significant degrees.

Atlanta Braves

For possibly the final time this season, the excellent Braves offense is our featured stack of the day. Atlanta will be at home to face Kyle Gibson and the Phillies. He is at best an average pitcher who comes up short in the strikeout department at just a 20.1% rate over his 177.2 innings. Gibson has a 4.14 xFIP and a 1.22 WHIP, while inducing a 10.1% swinging-strike rate and compiling just a 26.8% CSW. He has allowed just a 4.4% barrel rate and a 38.7% hard-hit percentage this year, but he is targetable for sequencing and run creation at worst, and the Braves’ loaded lineup has the ability to generate power against any pitcher. Atlanta’s 4.77% home run rate against righties is the league-leading mark against pitchers of either hand this season. They have a .201 ISO but create runs just at the league average while striking out 24.3% of the time. At positive leverage and fair pricing, the team is a compelling stack option on this slate.

Jorge Soler is up to 25 home runs on the season after struggling early while still with Kansas City. Soler has a .200 ISO and is creating runs 2% behind the league average while slashing .222/.316/.422. He is something of a three true outcomes hitter, striking out at a 23.6% clip but walking 11.1% of the time, which is why he is capable in a leadoff role despite some oddball numbers for the lineup slot. Soler comes in at a major discount on the blue site, where he costs just $3,300 and will be below 5% popularity. For $4,300 on DraftKings he is similarly under-owned.

Freddie Freeman strikes out just 15.4% of the time and walks at a 12.4% rate. He has a 45.9% hard-hit percentage and an 11.5% barrel rate that has translated into 31 home runs and a .206 ISO for the season. He is slashing .299/.392/.506 this season and he has created runs 35% better than average, leading his team. Freeman is pricey on DraftKings but comes at a fair number on the FanDuel slate.

Ozzie Albies has 30 home runs and 19 stolen bases this season, putting him in rare company for MLB DFS point-scoring potential. Albies is slashing .258/.310/.485 over 674 plate appearances. He has a .227 ISO and has created runs 6% ahead of the league average by WRC+. Albies’ strikeout rate is just 18.8% but he does not walk as frequently as the two previous hitters in the lineup. He also has a limited hard-hit percentage at just 36.6% with a 9.6% barrel rate, both of which seem low for the home run production Albies has provided. He will be owned in the low single-digits across the industry.

Austin Riley is the third straight hitter in this lineup with 30 home runs or more, coming into the night at 32. Riley’s breakout has been season-saving for the Braves after the team lost Ronald Acuna Jr. for the year. Riley is slashing .302/.367/.527 with a .225 ISO and he ties Freeman with a 135 WRC+. He has a 45.3% hard-hit percentage and a 13% barrel rate this season, though he strikes out at a 25.1% clip when not making excellent contact. At 2% popularity or less, this is a no-brainer inclusion in Braves stacks.

Adam Duvall has 38 home runs this season, coming into the night with a team-leading .267 ISO and a 16% barrel rate. Duvall strikes out at an aggressive 31.3% rate, the worst on the team, and he walks just 6.4% of the time, but he creates runs 5% better than average by sheer power. Duvall is a fine choice for the majority of Braves stacks.

Eddie Rosario is inexpensive and unpopular from later in the lineup. Rosario is slashing .258/.305/.431 with a .173 ISO, and he has created runs 2% behind league average this season. He has 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 397 plate appearances this season.

Travis d’Arnaud has seven home runs but is creating runs 20% behind the curve over his 221 plate appearances this season. He is slashing just .223/.285/.396 while striking out 21.7% of the time. He has a solid 44.5% hard-hit percentage but just a 7.7% barrel rate this year. There are clear flaws, but where the position is required it is fine to include d’Arnaud. Where it is not, including him in a minimal portion of Braves stacks is still viable.

Dansby Swanson has 27 home runs and nine stolen bases in 642 plate appearances at a premium position. He has a .202 ISO and has created runs 2% behind the league average. He strikes out at a hefty 25.2% clip but bounces back with his excellent 11.3% barrel rate and solid 42.6% hard-hit percentage. Swanson costs just $4,400 on DraftKings and a hilariously low $2,900 on the blue site. Adding him to lineups is a strong GPP play when stacking Braves, and he makes for a solid one-off at the position as needed.

HR Call: Ketel Marte — Arizona Diamondbacks

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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