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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks Opening Day | Today, 4/1/21

Terry McBride



MLB DFS Picks, top stacks and pitchers for Yahoo, DraftKings & FanDuel daily fantasy baseball lineups, including the Royals | Thursday, 7/8

Welcome to the best sports day of the year. After a long wait, it’s finally Opening Day. The 145th season of Major League Baseball kicks off in style with a ton of good matchups on the board, though one has already been lost to bad weather with the Red Sox postponing their opener. Most of the other games in the region appear to be safe from postponement, though it’s not exactly baseball weather out there today; the ball could have difficulty leaving the park and not just because of the new design. The split-slate kicks off at 1 p.m. ET on FanDuel and 2 p.m. ET on DraftKings, with later action in smaller tournaments in the 4 p.m. hour and a three-game late night slate at 10 p.m. The Awesemo team will be here for all of it, providing updates to tools and data throughout. Speaking of tools, if you aren’t visiting the Top Stacks tool on a regular basis, you’re just making your MLB DFS picks incorrectly.

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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Top HR Options

Home Run Ratings

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 own design, based on a blend of several predictive statistics for the batter-pitcher matchup, I’m going to give one of the top choices from each team.

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

Arizona Diamondbacks: Christian Walker — 3.94

Atlanta Braves: Marcell Ozuna — 9.05

Baltimore Orioles: PPD

Boston Red Sox: PPD

Chicago Cubs: Joc Pederson — 11.59

Chicago White Sox: n/a

Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas — 10.45

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 17.31

Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story — 10.96

Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Schoop — 5.26

Houston Astros: n/a

Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler — 10.94

Los Angeles Angels: n/a

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger — 11.40

Miami Marlins: Adam Duvall — 12.41

Milwaukee Brewers: Keston Hiura — 9.17

Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano — 10.41

New York Mets: n/a

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge — 15.88

Oakland Athletics: n/a

Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper — 7.74

Pittsburgh Pirates: Colin Moran — 6.25

San Diego Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. — 24.51

San Francisco Giants:

Seattle Mariners: n/a

St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado — 4.83

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows — 6.09

Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo — 3.36

Toronto Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez — 13.22

Washington Nationals: n/a


MLB DFS Stacks & Ownership Plays | DraftKings & FanDuel

(Quick note: if it says 1-5 it means hitters 1-2-3-4-5, otherwise I’ll specify spots)

This section will feature a few standout MLB DFS spots and teams to look at for potential plays here. Make sure to check out the ownership projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

LAD at COL — LAD 4-7: Bellinger-Smith-Muncy-Pollock

If you are new to MLB DFS, you may not be aware that Colorado’s Coors Field is a massive outlier in terms of the way the baseball behaves in the stadium’s environment. Between the park’s dimensions and the thin air at Denver’s altitude, offensive outbursts are quite common in Rockies home games, and pitching goes there to die. Typically it is advisable to avoid even the best of the best when they are starting in Colorado, and that likely applies to Clayton Kershaw and German Marquez today. There are simply too many games available to need to get that cute with a pitching decision, particularly on a cold April opening day.

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The hitters, on the other hand, you want to roster in large quantities. Both teams in this one will be popular, with the Dodgers ridiculously talented lineup leading the way on the Top Stacks Tool but also by and large on the Ownership Projections. The Dodgers will be as popular as they are good. Rostering them makes sense, but it follows that taking the time to pair them with offbeat pitchers or secondary stacks would be a good way to differentiate some tournament lineups. On the Rockies side, there could be some ownership discounts for a team in a good spot, but this lineup is diminished from what it has been in years past. The Coors team to look to today is the world champs.

The Dodgers lineup is loaded; their active roster was bonkers against right-handed pitching over the last two seasons combined. They led the league with a .233 ISO and were second in strikeout rate at 19.8% in the split. The team WRC+ of 126 means that they created runs at a pace 26% greater than that of the average team when facing right handed pitching, while their 230 home runs were fifth in baseball.

Mookie Betts is likely to lead off, putting one of the game’s best players — and one of the most expensive options on the MLB DFS slate — in prime position to succeed at extreme popularity. In 246 plate appearances in 2020, Betts delivered for the Dodgers, putting up a .292/.366/.562 slash with 16 home runs, a .269 ISO and a WRC+ 49% above average. Betts is also the team’s primary option for speed, he swiped 10 bases last season from the top of the lineup. He is pricey at $5,900 on DraftKings and $4,800 on FanDuel, but it would be difficult to leave him out of more than a couple Dodgers stacks.

Nipping at Betts’ salary heels on DraftKings, shortstop Corey Seager continued his excellent play last season, truly arriving as a star-caliber player in blasting 15 home runs in just 232 plate appearances. Seager added a .307/.358/.585 slash with a .278 ISO and a WRC+ 52% above average, while providing protection and correlated scoring galore for Betts at the top of the lineup.

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Hitting behind those two is veteran Justin Turner who has had an excellent career and held off some competition in Spring Training to earn another year in the sun and a prime spot in a killer lineup. Turner had a typically excellent season in the shortened 2020; he saw 175 plate appearances and put up a .307/.400/.460 slash with a WRC+ 40% above average.

The one down-note in the Dodgers entire season last year was the performance of star Cody Bellinger. A season after mashing 47 home runs and going .305/.406/.629 in 660 plate appearances, Bellinger plummeted to a .239/.333/.455 slash with 12 home runs in 243 plate appearances. The star is far closer to what he was in 2019, and a return to form can be expected here. There is no better place than Coors field to kick off an early career renaissance year.

Stacking those four players together will be prohibitively expensive, and also a popular approach to this team. Getting to the top of a lineup is always advisable when stacking because expected plate appearances diminish further down the batting order. However, one can frequently make up what is lost in potential on-field opportunity with leverage and salary, creating an interesting balance. With a team like the Dodgers, who are loaded up and down the roster, the talent levels in the seven, eight and nine spots in the order are less concerning than on other squads.

With power-packed catcher Will Smith likely hitting fifth, MLB DFS players have a strong option to build in behind the plate. Smith brutalized National League pitching in 2019, hitting 15 home runs in just 196 plate appearances. In 2020 he had 137 opportunities at the dish and knocked eight balls out of the park while putting up a .289/.401/.579 slash that is truly excellent for a catcher. Smith created runs 63% better than the average player last season. He should not be left out of stacks, particularly where catchers are necessary.

Max Muncy is a bit of a Swiss-Army knife player for the Dodgers with his ability to play all over the field and provide decent power upside while doing so, the prototype of what MLB GMs are looking for in a player these days. Muncy provides some lefty power from late in the lineup, though he has the highest-projected season-long strikeout rate on the team, coming in at 26%. Ultimately Muncy is a bigtime power option and he is not rostered for his hit tool. He blasted 12 home runs in his 248 plate appearances last season, though his inability to get other hits hampered some of his numbers, creating a .192/.331/.389 slash with a .197 ISO and a league-average WRC+.

Veteran outfielder A.J. Pollock gets buried toward the bottom of the Dodgers lineup, but he makes an interesting endcap to stacks from the middle of the order down, or he can provide a high-quality wraparound play back to the top of the lineup. Pollock is inexpensive for the opportunity at Coors Field for a player of his caliber. In 210 plate appearances in 2020, Pollock managed to hit 16 home runs while putting up a strong .276/.314/.566 slash and even swiping a pair of bases. Pollock is an underrated player who will not be as popular as he should be in Dodgers stacks today.

Gavin Lux is likely to round-out the lineup from the eight spot. The lefty infielder can connect for power from time to time, though he has struggled to do much else with regularity in his young major league career. In 69 plate appearances in 2020, Lux suffered from small sample size disease, coming in with an unsightly .175/.246/.349 slash and just three home runs. In his 82 chances in 2019, he put up a .240/.305/.400 slash and hit two home runs. There is talent available, it just needs to be unlocked by opportunity. Getting to Lux at an affordable price could help differentiate to a degree, but it will also be a popular choice within Dodgers stacks.

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TEX at KC— KC 1-5: Merrifield-Benintendi-Santana-Perez-Soler

The Kansas City Royals will be at home taking on the lowly Texas Rangers to open the season. The Royals are an interesting squad coming into 2021. They have several very appealing MLB DFS options in the lineup and could make noise in GPP play throughout the season. They may have come as a bit of a surprise for some to see as Awesemo’s third-ranked team in today’s Top Stacks Tool for DraftKings and for FanDuel, but they profile as a much better team for MLB DFS purposes than they do for real baseball considerations like winning a World Series.

The Royals are built like a 1980s baseball team and are one of the last organizations to truly value speed and smallball play. They are loaded with burners at the top of the lineup and can expect some power contribution from the dynamic 1-3 hitters they employ on most days, though they will be without star shortstop Adalberto Mondesi on Opening Day. Following that trio are the power bats, who have tremendous upside for monster fantasy baseball performances on any given slate but can also be very boom or bust. In a matchup against Kyle Gibson there is opportunity to boom.

Starting things off up top, excellent outfielder Whit Merrifield provides both speed and pop to the top of the lineup. Merrifield is priced quite differently from DraftKings to FanDuel, as are most of his teammates, it will be more difficult to roster Royals alongside Dodgers on that site than on the blue one today. Merrifield slots in as a $5,200 option on DraftKings and just $3,300 on FanDuel. The outfielder put up a solid .282/.325/.440 slash last year, hitting nine home runs and stealing 12 bases in his 265 plate appearances. In a full season in 2019, seeing 735 plate appearances, Merrifield hit 16 home runs and swiped 20 bags.

Merrifield will be followed by newly acquired Andrew Benintendi, who came over from the Red Sox in an offseason deal. Benintendi is a former top prospect who was touted for mid-range power and quality speed, with thoughts toward multiple 20-20 seasons in his future. He managed that feat once, in his second season, hitting both marks exactly. Since that 2017 season, Benintendi has disappointed from expectations. In 2019 he saw 615 plate appearances, hitting just 13 home runs and swiping 10 bases, while 2020 saw him make just 52 plate appearances before being lost for the year with a rib injury. The mid-grade power and ability to steal bases fits right in with how the Royals operate. Benintendi could be in for a quality year in both categories.

Without Mondesi, the power bats enter in a spot early, with Carlos Santana hitting third. Santana provides some thump and has previously been a quality hit-tool player. In 2019 Santana went .281/.397/.515 in his 686 plate appearances. That cratered to a .199/.349/.350 slash in his 255 opportunities last year, though he did manage to hit eight home runs. There should be something in the middle of those two outliers for his slash numbers, while the power will put him reliably in the 20 or more range in season long home runs.

Santana receives protection in the lineup from underrated slugging catcher Salvador Perez, who returned to action in 2020 after missing all of the 2019 season. Perez made 156 plate appearances in last year’s shortened season, putting up an excellent .333/.353/.633 slash with a .300 ISO and a WRC+ 62% above average while hitting 11 home runs and even swiping a bag. He is an excellent catching option, though he will be pricey on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Destroyer of baseballs Jorge Soler is a lingering titan in the Royals lineup. With power for days, Soler crushes baseballs when he makes contact. In 2019 he hit 48 home runs in a breakout year that saw him reach 679 plate appearances. The outfielder managed to hit just eight in his 174 plate appearances last year, while going .228/.326/.443 and struggling with his strikeout numbers, whiffing a whopping 34.5% of the time.

The back-end of the Royals lineup begins to trail off in this configuration. Though some value can be squeezed out of players like Hunter Dozier who slots in at both corner positions on DraftKings and as a third baseman-outfield hybrid on FanDuel. Dozier hit six home runs and swiped four bases in his 186 plate appearances last year and is an inexpensive way to round off a stack.

Former third-round pick Kyle Isbel will be a popular way to offset salary on DraftKings, where he costs just $2,100. The rookie is another mid-range power and speed option, though he is yet to play above high-A ball. In 2019 he made 214 plate appearances for the Royals’ high-A affiliate, putting up five home runs and stealing eight bases and striking out 20.6% of the time. He is in play primarily for the salary.

Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez are primarily salary-deferring options from the very bottom of the Royals’ lineup. There is not much to love about either play, though Taylor can provide the infrequent upside game with his blend of pop and speed. Ultimately these are not the players to stack when going to the Royals, however.

HR Call: Franmil Reyes (Indians)

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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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