The tiny Thursday main slate features just three games on both FanDuel and DraftKings after the sites failed to agree on the size of the early afternoon slate. The slate includes a few talented pitchers that should create an interesting contest even with the limited number of available combinations on the mound and at the plate. The three games are carrying run totals of eight or 8.5, and both the Mariners vs Red Sox and the Diamondbacks vs Cubs game are on the Vegas board as potentially close games. The third matchup, between the Rangers and Astros, sees Houston as the heaviest favorite on the slate, with the highest of the six implied run totals. Astros bats will be extremely popular on this slate, as will their pitcher, looking in other directions for leverage and getting creative with lineups is something to keep in mind going into a slate of this nature in both DraftKings and FanDuel MLB DFS contests.
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Top Home Run Ratings & Predictions
Using a model based on a blend of several predictive statistics for the batter-pitcher matchup we will give each team one of the top choices from their projected lineup. However, the pick included below will not always be the actual top-rated player, particularly when there is an obvious star who rates atop his team’s lineup each day. Check out all of Awesemo’s top-notch baseball content and free MLB DFS picks.
Scale: 5-10 Average; 10-20 Good; 20-25 Very Good; 25+ Great
Arizona Diamondbacks: David Peralta — 3.38
Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers — 13.96
Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ — 8.16
Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 5.32
Seattle Mariners: Eugenio Suarez — 7.09
Texas Rangers: Kole Calhoun — 3.63
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 and the second is for the top six hitters in the projected lineup.
MLB DFS Picks Today: Pitchers, Best Stacks & Low-Owned Plays
This section will feature a few standout MLB DFS spots and teams to look at for potential plays on DraftKings and FanDuel. Be sure to check out the Awesemo MLB DFS Ownership Projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.
On the Hill
With only three games on the slate, one might expect to find no strong leverage options on the mound, but with Seattle’s George Kirby pulling in just an eight percent ownership projection on DraftKings and a quarter of that on FanDuel, the Mariners’ prized rookie looks like an amazing tournament target. The top two options on the board by their probability of finishing as a top-two DraftKings pitcher both come at significant popularity. Framber Valdez tops the board by probability and he has by far the slate’s worst leverage score. The Diamondbacks will have Zac Gallen on the mound to face the Cubs, the healthy matchup has Gallen projected for nearly 50% popularity on the DraftKings slate, but that brings his leverage situation much closer to even on the site. Valdez is projected for more than 50% popularity and major negative leverage on the blue site as well, Gallen is efficiently owned at about 20%. Third-ranked Marcus Stroman is at similar popularity and leverage to Gallen on the two-pitcher site, but he comes at just 12% popularity and a positive leverage score on FanDuel for a fair price. By the numbers, every pitcher on FanDuel who is not named Valdez or Gallen is at positive leverage today. Across town, the list of positively leveraged pitchers includes only Kirby and last-ranked Rangers starter Glenn Otto, whose start may not be long for this world in a matchup against the lethal Astros. Red Sox southpaw Rich Hill is the only starter who has not been mentioned, he is in the middle of the board following a strong start in his last outing.
Mariners righty George Kirby has made just two starts at the Major League level, pitching 10 innings to excellent results. Kirby has a 0.90 ERA and a 3.31 xFIP in the small sample, he has struck out just 20.5% of opposing hitters so far, but he is a highly-regarded prospect with strikeout upside at every level. Kirby has walked only 2.6% in the 10 innings in the Majors, he has induced an 11.8% swinging-strike rate and allowed just a 3.3% barrel rate. Kirby is facing a Red Sox lineup with a 16th-ranked .143 ISO but just a 2.19% home run rate that sits 22nd and a WRC+ three percent below average that sits 20th. Boston has been good against righties at limiting strikeouts, the team’s active roster has a collective 20.4% rate in the split, making them the eighth-ranked team in the game. Kirby will be challenged by a few excellent hitters, but he is well worth targeting ahead of the field on both DraftKings and FanDuel tonight as easily the best leverage situation available on the small slate.
For all their early struggles this season, the Rangers are no worse than average at everything against left-handed pitching. Texas’ active roster has created runs exactly at league average by collective WRC+ in the split, they rank 13th with a .153 ISO, 14th with a 21.8% strikeout rate, and their 3.11% home run rate sits 11th-best in the split. Astros southpaw Framber Valdez will be facing the Rangers with more than half of the field on his back on both sites. Valdez has a leverage score below -30 on FanDuel and below -20 on DraftKings, making any other decision on the mound is likely to result in a differentiated lineup. Valdez is coming off back-to-back starts where he exceeded his typical strikeout expectation, racking up seven punchouts against Detroit and another six in his most recent outing against Washington. The lefty has always been excellent at keeping the ball on the ground and in the yard, but he is not typically seen as a big-time strikeout option, and even with those performances he is currently at an 18.9% rate for the season. Valdez posted a 21.9% strikeout rate over his 134.2 innings last season while inducing a massive 70.3% ground ball rate with an average launch angle of -5.5 degrees. The lefty’s strikeouts did spike to a 26.4% strikeout rate in 70.2 innings in the odd shortened 2020 season and he has hit similar mid-20s rates in small stints in the minors over time, but the extended Major League sample suggests he will continue to be more effective as a groundball specialist than a strikeout pitcher, the starter is back to worm-burning ways this season with a -5.6 degree average launch angle and just a 0.9% barrel rate allowed. Valdez is sporting a 10.1% walk rate and a 1.28 WHIP over his first 40 innings this season however, even with the limited contact profile, he is allowing too many opportunities. With so much public popularity and an excellent option like Kirby dramatically under-owned, it makes sense to pivot shares away from the public.
The popularity is less of a concern for the Diamondbacks’ starter. Zac Gallen ranks second in both public ownership and probability of success on this slate, but his leverage number is far closer to a playable efficient mark than it is a concern. Gallen is 17 points of leverage score removed from the over-ownership of Valdez on the DraftKings slate. The righty will be popular, he is projected for 47.1% ownership but there is room to roster him at or around the field. Gallen has made six starts and he has a 27.1% strikeout rate in 34.1 innings while walking just 3.9% and posting an excellent 0.67 WHIP. Gallen has induced a 10.3% swinging-strike rate and he has pitched to a 3.35 xFIP while limiting opposing hitters to just a 30.6% hard-hit percentage and a 7.1% barrel rate. Gallen will be facing a Cubs lineup with a little bit of power, but one that also has baseball’s worst strikeout rate against righties at 26.9%. Chicago’s active roster has created runs five percent better than average in the split but their 18th-ranked .140 ISO and 19th-rated 2.3% home run rate in the split are not intimidating. Gallen is worthy of shares, but he can be safely undercut as well, in favor of spreading out to more positive leverage situations. Including both Gallen and Valdez at around 30% or even 35% frees up a great number of pitching shares for the lower-owned upside options.
Two veterans are caught in the in-between on this slate. Righty Marcus Stroman will be on the mound for the Cubs to take on the Diamondbacks while southpaw Rich Hill takes the ball for the Red Sox against the Mariners. Neither pitcher is an overly appealing MLB DFS option on most slates, but most slates contain more than three games. Both starters are popular in the mid-30% range on DraftKings, where they are slightly negatively leveraged in the middle of the board. On FanDuel, Stroman is slightly over the 10% popularity mark and Hill is beneath it, with both pitchers pulling in positive leverage. The FanDuel slate almost demands that these two pitchers see more attention than the field is affording them in the afternoon projections. Diverting shares from Valdez and Gallen to Hill, Stroman, and Kirby has tournament-winning upside on a slate of this nature. For their part, while they are not prime MLB DFS starters, both pitchers are capable and they have long tenures of success from a “real baseball pitcher” perspective. Stroman has struck out 20.4% of opposing hitters over his first 26.1 innings this season, pitching to a 3.62 xFIP but with an ugly contact profile that includes a 53.2% hard-hit rate on a 9.6-degree average launch angle with an 8.9% barrel rate. Hill has just an 18.6% strikeout rate over 28 innings in six starts this season, but that is no worse than what is offered by Valdez, and Hill comes with far less popularity. The lefty has a 4.30 xFIP with a 1.11 WHIP and he has yielded a 33.3% hard-hit rate this season. Hill is facing a Mariners roster with above-average but not great marks across the board in the split. Seattle has created runs 12% better than average and they have a 3.0% home run rate, both of which rank 12th in baseball. The team’s 21.3% strikeout rate sits 13th and they have a ninth-ranked .164 ISO against lefties. Meanwhile, Stroman is facing a Diamondbacks lineup that is friskier than expected against righties this year. Arizona’s active roster has a .175 ISO and a 3.33% home run rate in the split that ranks fourth and seventh-best respectively, but the team has a 23.5% strikeout rate that sits 22nd and their WRC+ has been one percent below average. Both Stroman and Hill can find success in these starts, they should be owned ahead of the field on FanDuel and around the public’s exposure on DraftKings.
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The frequently featured Astros are the lurking obvious public option on the offensive side of the equation. Houston ranks first on the FanDuel Top Stacks Tool and second on DraftKings, by their probability of being the top stack in a matchup against Glenn Otto. The Rangers’ righty has a 19.8% strikeout rate and a 4.35 xFIP this season, but he has walked a concerning 12.3% of hitters and he has a 1.42 WHIP that simply will not play against this elite Astros lineup. Otto is inducing a healthy 12.6% swinging-strike rate but he has yielded a 46.3% hard-hit percentage and a 13% barrel rate so far this season, he is much more of a pitcher to target with bats on this slate. Houston’s active roster is excellent at everything against pitchers of both hands, against righties, the team sits second in ISO at .198, WRC+ at 125, and home run rate at 4.20%, and their 19.9% strikeout rate ranks sixth in the split. The Astros land at negative leverage on both sites, but their low 20s collective ownership percentage is not unplayable when creating full stacks on the short slate, and there are lower-owned options for smaller stacks. Go-to Astros include Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, and Yordan Alvarez, who have a collective 28 home runs and an average WRC+ that sits 50% above average. The top end of this batting order can be played against any pitcher, but they are also fairly popular. Bregman is under-owned on DraftKings, but the other three are owned from the high teens into the high 20s, and even Bregman lands at that level for his price on FanDuel. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker are as good as any of those four hitters, they will also be popular, though Gurriel is carrying a more friendly 11% ownership projection on both sites. The first baseman has been finding his form lately and he is up to a .242/.280./.419 with three home runs while creating runs seven percent better than average. Chas McCormick should not be owned in the single-digits on a three-game slate against this pitcher. McCormick is slashing .233/.286/.427 but he has a .194 ISO and four home runs, and he makes premium contact effectively with his 40.5% hard-hit rate and 8.9% barrel rate. McCormick and shortstop Jeremy Pena can be targeted from later in the lineup, but Pena is as popular as any other hitter. Martin Maldonado is a differentiation piece in any situation, the catcher is projected for low single-digits ownership.
On a short slate, why not pay a little attention to a team that is rarely featured in this space, particularly when they happen to rank as the top overall stack on the DraftKings slate. Arizona sits third on FanDuel’s board, but the situation is tight on both MLB DFS sites, with a plateau of probability on the five teams not named the Texas Rangers. The Diamondbacks will technically be at slightly negative leverage, but basically, everyone is at least somewhat popular on a three-game slate. Arizona is facing Marcus Stroman, and the team has been capable for power against righties as featured above in the pitcher writeup.
The terrific multi-position eligibility between catcher and outfield that Daulton Varsho carries into every slate has significant value on DraftKings. The catcher is in the leadoff spot for Arizona once again, he is easily the team’s most popular player at nearly a 40% ownership projection as the slate’s most popular catcher where the position is mandatory. On the blue site, Varsho comes at 32.7% ownership as he is simply a good bat in a good spot. The utility player is slashing .257/.326/.449 with a .197 ISO and he has created runs 19% better than average. Every other hitter on this team outside of Jordan Luplow will be owned about 20 percentage points lower than Varsho on this slate, but he is worthy of inclusion in stacks where possible.
Lefty Pavin Smith has hit three home runs and has just a .123 ISO while creating runs nine percent below average this season. The formerly well-regarded bat is slashing just .228/.310/.351 so far this year, with three home runs and a stolen base in his 129 plate appearances. That Smith is struggling to that degree is surprising, the hitter has a solid 40.8% hard-hit rate and an excellent 14.5% barrel rate, he is a potentially sneaky target who is cheap on both sites.
Switch-hitting Ketel Marte is off to a slow start, he has hit just two home runs and stolen two bases in his 146 plate appearances, and he is slashing just .231/.308/.392. Marte has created runs one percent below average, but he has far more talent than that. last season he was 39% better than average creating runs over his 374 plate appearances, hitting 14 home runs and stealing two bases while getting on at a .377 clip. Marte is a cheap fairly low-owned second baseman on DraftKings, he is even more affordable with added outfield eligibility on the blue site, and he comes with reasonable popularity.
Slugger Christian Walker has hit nine home runs while slashing .212/.302/.470 with a .258 ISO. Walker has created runs 18% better than average and he has an excellent 47.1% hard-hit rate and a 13.7% barrel rate so far this season, adding credence to the early power surge. Walker slots in for a low price at first base on both sites, and he is drawing around 20% popularity around the industry. The first baseman’s home run total nearly matches the 10 that he posted in 445 plate appearances last year, it is still early enough to catch the upswing of a potential breakout season.
Infielder Josh Rojas costs $4,000 and is drawing low single-digit popularity from the fifth spot in the Arizona lineup while slotting in at third base, he is a $2,200 shortstop or second baseman on FanDuel. At the low price and valuable flexibility, Rojas is pulling in nearly 20% popularity on the blue site, but he is a useful piece for his price and productivity. Rojas has made 45 plate appearances, slashing .243/.356/.243 and he has zero home runs or extra-base hits, amounting to a .000 ISO, but over 550 plate appearances last year he managed 11 home runs and was two percent ahead of the curve creating runs.
Lefty-swinging outfielder David Peralta is low-owned on both sites. The veteran has scuffled to a .202/.294/.385 triple-slash while creating runs 11% worse than average so far this season. Peralta is a formerly productive player who comes at a cheap price, he could surprise on this slate at low ownership and low probability at the back of stacks.
Righty thumper Jordan Luplow is owned at more than a 40% rate on both sites, he is the highest-owned individual hitter on this slate and his popularity must be considered when including him in MLB DFS lineup. Luplow has hit five home runs and has a .308 ISO but he is slashing .192/.263/.500 while creating runs 13% better than average. He has a 33.3% hard-hit rate that would be unremarkable but for how low it sits. Luplow seems to be massively overrated by the field, while he has power and could hit a home run, he is not nearly worth the weight of public ownership.
Over 36 plate appearances, outfielder Alek Thomas is slashing .314/.333/.571 with two home runs and a 153 WRC+. He is cheap and owned at around a 10% rate by the public from site to site. Low-owned Geraldo Perdomo occupies the last spot in the lineup. Perdomo has created runs 14% worse than average and he is slashing .207/.350/.256 over 100 plate appearances this year. There is a minor appeal in his on-base acumen as a wraparound back to the Varsho portion of the lineup, but Perdomo is not a player for whom gamers should over-extend.
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