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MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Leverage, Home Runs, Optimal Picks | Today, 8/7/21

Terry McBride



Daily fantasy baseball advice. MLB DFS Picks on Deeper Dive & Live Before Lock. DraftKings and FanDuel picks for 9/22 w/ Nick Castellanos.

The Saturday MLB DFS main slate features 10 games on FanDuel and a portion of an additional game on DraftKings, with that site including the seven-inning Red Sox – Blue Jays game. This article, as always, will focus on the games that appear across both slates. For DraftKings players, there is likely to be minimal upside in rostering bats from the shortened game, given the probability of reduced plate appearances. Toronto starter Jose Berrios could be an interesting option for DraftKings purposes, given a chance at a complete game, but his opponent is a difficult one, and there are better spots on the board. For the games included on both sites, we have an interesting pitching board that is topped by several name-brand aces, while the mid-range and value section of the board leaves much to be desired. The hitting slate should pop for quality once again, with several known gas cans, a few rookies, and a Coors Field game on tap.

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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 own design, based on a blend of several predictive statistics for the batter-pitcher matchup, I will give one of the top choices from each team. However, it will not always be the absolute top-ranked player, particularly when there is an obvious star in that spot every day.

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Home Run Ratings

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

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ketel Marte — 6.01

Atlanta Braves: Jorge Soler — 18.22

Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini — 8.90

Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas — 10.42

Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes — 16.82

Colorado Rockies: Brendan Rodgers — 11.52

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera — 15.61

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker — 7.74

Kansas City Royals: Sal Perez — 13.72

Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell — 5.26

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy — 7.93

Miami Marlins: Jesus Aguilar — 8.09

Milwaukee Brewers: Avisail Garcia — 3.29

Minnesota Twins: Brent Rooker — 8.73

Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco — 10.13

San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer — 10.32

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt — 5.52

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill — 7.30

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Lowe — 5.89

Washington Nationals: Juan Soto — 8.05

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Power Index

This is intended to capture the full range of home runs-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 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 ownership projections for critical updates and monitor the top stacks tool throughout the day for changes.

On the Hill

This evening, the pitching slate is relatively top-heavy, with a few premium options leading immediately into a quality desert. The slate is topped by Brandon Woodruff, who has been largely spectacular all season for the Brewers, though the Giants make for a challenging opponent. Yu Darvish will face the lowly Diamondbacks in what should be a plus matchup for the Padres ace, while Julio Urias draws the Angels in his home National League park. The slate is rounded off by Luis Garcia, who is taking the mound for the Astros against the strikeout heavy Twins lineup, and Charlie Morton, who draws a winnowed Washington lineup.

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This season, Woodruff has made 21 starts, pitching to a 3.00 xFIP with a 0.88 WHIP and a 30% strikeout rate. The righty has a terrific 12.4% swinging strike rate with a 4.7% barreled ball rate and a 6.3% walk rate. He has been excellent for contact, allowing just a 31.2% hard-hit rate and an 85.8 mph average exit velocity this season. Woodruff is excellent for depth, and a chance at both a win and quality start bonus most times he takes the mound, though the latter may be in doubt given the quality of his offense and opponent. The Giants’ active roster has a 4.61% home run rate against righties with a .204 collective ISO that leads baseball in the split. The team creates runs 10% better than average but does have a second-worst in baseball strikeout rate of 25.3% against right-handed pitching. This is an upside spot for Woodruff. He is the slate’s most likely pitcher to run off and hide with his score, given the upside for strikeouts and his ability to overcome the talented Giants lineup. For $11,000 on FanDuel, the Brewers ace is not drawing enough ownership; he is ludicrously popular for $9,900 on DraftKings.

Darvish is pitching at home in San Diego’s pitcher’s park, which only adds to the appeal in getting to the Padres ace. The righty faces a Diamondbacks team with a .126 collective ISO and a 2.03% home run rate against right-handed pitchers this season. Both marks represent the bottom of the league in the category. The Snakes strike out 24.6% of the time in the split and create runs 19% behind the average, giving both safety and upside to the Darvish play. For his part, the Padres righty has been sharp all season. Darvish has a 29% strikeout rate and a 1.02 WHIP with a 5.9% walk rate over his 121.2 innings in 21 starts. Darvish has pitched to a 3.87 xFIP with a 12.7% swinging-strike rate and a 30.4% CSW%. Darvish has allowed just a 33.9% hard-hit rate with an 87.6 mph average exit velocity this season. He is one of the best pitchers in the game. Darvish is mispriced at $9,000 on FanDuel and drawing a ton of ownership. On DraftKings, he is priced at $10,100 and will be equally popular. The Padres have an excellent shot at winning this game, and Darvish is one of the clear top options on the slate. He can be rostered with the field given the availability of alternate SP2 options and under-owned stacks.

With Julio Urias on the hill, the Dodgers will have their cross-county rivals in town, though the Angels are likely to be without their best players like Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon remain injured, and Shohei Ohtani is unlikely to start in a game that drops the designated hitter. This leaves the Angels lineup significantly lacking for quality, the projected batting order has nearly a 25% strikeout rate on average, and they lack significant ability in sequential hitting or power. Urias has thrown 129.2 innings in 22 starts this season, providing solid depth of start for the first time in his career. The lefty has a 26.7% strikeout rate with a 4.8% walk rate, a 3.53 xFIP, and a 1.05 WHIP on the season. He has put together a 12% swinging-strike rate and a 31% CSW% and has been excellent at limiting quality contact. Opposing hitters barrel the ball 6.3% of the time against Urias, and he has allowed just a 30.7% hard-hit rate on the season. The starter costs $10,000 on the blue site, where he will be owned in just the single digits, while his $10,500 price tag on DraftKings has his popularity suppressed, despite the strong opportunity.

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Morton will face a depleted Nationals lineup that may again be without star Juan Soto, who is dealing with both a sore knee and sore feelings after the team shipped out all of its talent at the trade deadline. Soto is a major difference-maker, and Morton takes a slight ding if he is in the lineup, but the Atlanta righty is still worthy of consideration even in that circumstance. Including Soto, the Nationals active roster has just a .135 collective ISO with a 2.76% home run rate against right-handed pitchers, while striking out 23.9% of the time and creating runs 16% behind the average; taking Soto out would dramatically reduce all of those marks even further of course. Morton has a 27.8% strikeout rate over 122 innings in 22 starts. He has walked too many at 8.3% but has kept things relatively clean with his ability to pitch his way out of jams. The righty has a 12.3% swinging-strike rate and has allowed just a 5.1% barreled ball rate with a 34.3% hard-hit rate and 88.5 mph average exit velocity. Morton projects well in this spot. He will be popular for $9,400 on DraftKings and well-owned but playable for a discounted $8,700 on the FanDuel slate, though the ownership delta between Morton and the higher-end starters above him are noteworthy.

The Astros face the Twins at home with Luis Garcia on the mound. The righty has been solid all season, pitching 100.2 innings in 18 starts with a 25% strikeout rate and a stellar 3.1% walk rate. He has pitched to a 3.26 xFIP with a 1.23 WHIP and is arguably getting slightly unlucky with a .283 batting average on balls in play against. Garcia has allowed a bit too much premium contact. He has a 7.4% barreled ball rate with a 40.1% hard-hit rate and a 17.5-degree average launch angle, if he makes a mistake, it can certainly travel, and the Twins have a significant amount of power in the lineup, but there is strikeout upside in the matchup with Minnesota’s projected lineup. As a whole, the Twins look good on paper against righties. The active roster has a 22.7% strikeout rate with a .181 ISO and a 4.10% home run rate while creating runs two percent better than average. The inflated strikeout numbers likely to be in the back-end of today’s batting order are appealing, and Garcia is both affordable and relatively low-owned on the FanDuel slate, where he costs $8,300. For DraftKings, Garcia is priced like an SP1 at $10,300, which is a debatably deserved price. However, the righty is in lofty company at that number, and the field is heading in other directions, leaving him with an ownership projection below 10%. While it is difficult to choose Garcia over a Darvish or Woodruff, doing so will immediately place constructions on a different path. Pairing him with one of the premium starters is expensive but not impossible on the site.

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Tampa Bay Rays

Today, the Rays are the top team on the board, with a hitter-friendly matchup in Baltimore against Spenser Watkins. The righty has struggled through 26 innings in five starts, putting up just a 16.5% strikeout rate while walking 10.1% and yielding a 7.6% barreled ball rate. He has been fortunate to yield just 26.6% hard hits but has a bumpy 5.43 xFIP with a 1.31 WHIP and a limited 8.9% strikeout rate with a 24.8% CSW%. There is major upside for both power and run creation for the Rays on this slate, but they will be excessively popular on the FanDuel slate. On DraftKings, the Rays truly stand out as a go-to option for this slate, the team has the highest positive leverage mark of the night, and they will be almost universally under-owned. The lineup is expensive, it will be difficult to roster them with two of the apex pitchers, but it is worth the effort given the massive upside. The projected lineup can be rostered from one through nine, with varying expectations. Key hitters include Brandon LoweNelson Cruz (who will be the most popular bat), Austin MeadowsWander Franco and Mike Zunino, with the rest of the roster as viable plug-in options.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds stand near the top of stack rankings with their reloaded lineup coming up near full health once again. The team will lean slightly into negative leverage territory on the FanDuel slate, but they join the Rays as a strong positive play across town. Pairing the top two options on the stacks board seems like a contrarian approach at this point in the afternoon, which is always a plus for GPP play, though pitching for that combination will be ugly. The Reds have an excellent matchup against Mitch Keller, who has just a 21.1% strikeout rate and an ugly 5.12 xFIP with a hideous 11.6% walk rate and a 9.6% barreled ball rate on the season. The righty has struggled with everything at the Major League level throughout his career. He has a 48.8% hard-hit rate on the season and is the slate’s most targetable pitcher. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has a .185 collective ISO with a 4.13% home run rate and a 23% strikeout rate against righties, all ahead of the curve, while they create runs nine percent better than average by collective WRC+. The Reds are an excellent bet for offense on tonight’s main slate.

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Infielder Jonathan India has been solid leading off for this club for most of the season. India has made 412 plate appearances and is slashing .283/.401/.463 with 13 home runs and a .180 ISO. He creates runs 34% better than average by WRC+ and has thrown in seven stolen bases for somewhat infrequent MLB DFS scoring bonuses. India has second and third base eligibility on FanDuel, where he costs $3,700 and is drawing slightly more than 10% popularity. He is viable as a $5,000 second baseman on DraftKings and a good way to kick off a Reds stack for an ownership discount.

Jesse Winker has spent the season making his presence felt in fantasy baseball. The lefty slugger is slashing .303/.388/.546 with 22 home runs and a .243 ISO over his 454 plate appearances. Winker has a 47.4% hard-hit rate with an 11.4% barreled ball rate. He strikes out just 16.3% of the time and walks at a 10.6% rate. The outfielder has made himself into one of baseball’s best overall hitters this season, he is fairly priced on FanDuel, where he will be popular, but the field is leaving him on the table for a pitcher’s price on DraftKings at $6,300. Winker is worth the spend but makes it very difficult to put together high-end combinations on the site.

On the other hand, Nick Castellanos is underpriced at just $4,200 on DraftKings and $3,500 on FanDuel. Castellanos was one of baseball’s hottest hitters before dropping to the injured list. He returned to the lineup earlier in the week and picks up at .323/.379/.570 with a .247 ISO and 18 home runs over 377 plate appearances. Castellanos creates runs 48% better than average. He belongs in most Reds stacks, particularly when he is underpriced, though he will be one of the team’s most popular bats.

First baseman Joey Votto is another veteran player experiencing a renaissance this season. Votto has always been spectacular at putting bat on ball, but he has struggled for power in recent seasons. The veteran has sacrificed somewhat with the hit tool this year, dropping to a .270 average (.270/.365/.550) but hitting for more power and elevating the ball with regularity. The change in approach has Votto at a 50.2% hard-hit rate with a 15.5% barreled ball rate and has translated to 22 home runs and a .280 ISO. The veteran is an excellent option for $4,100 on FanDuel and $6,100 on DraftKings, though again, the pricing on the latter site is a challenge.

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Mike Moustakas rejoined this lineup last night and immediately picked up a massive price tag from DraftKings, then delivered in the game, which bumped him to an even higher salary. The corner infielder costs $6,200 on the site, making it nearly impossible to roster him alongside Votto and Winker while putting anything else into the lineup. Moustakas is hilariously mispriced in the other direction on the blue site, where he comes in at $2,500 and one of the biggest ownership numbers on the slate. Moustakas earns it, of course, he has hit four home runs and has a .220 ISO over his 108 plate appearances this season, and he hit 35 home runs in 584 plate appearances in 2019.

Infielder Kyle Farmer slots in for low ownership on both sites, providing the first bastion for contrarianism in the lineup. Farmer costs $4,200 on DraftKings and $2,900 on FanDuel. He has hit 10 home runs in 353 plate appearances this season and can provide sneaky quality from this position in the batting order. The infielder is slashing .268/.332/.416 and creates runs exactly at league average. He has a limited 32.6% hard-hit rate and just a 4.6% barreled ball rate, but he has been good at putting the ball in play, striking out just 17.6% of the time. Farmer is a playable piece and helps with salary and overall ownership marks where needed.

Tyler Naquin has had several upstart moments through the season. He flashed notable power early in the year but has largely cooled and regressed the “quad-A” player he seems to be. Naquin has hit 13 home runs in 354 plate appearances. He has a .241/.308/.417 slash and is creating runs eight percent behind the curve. The outfielder has stolen five bases but does not provide reliable upside in that department. Naquin is a useful mix-in piece at this point, but not much more than that.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart hits from both sides of the plate and can break a slate in two if he connects for under-owned power. Barnhart has just six home runs in 273 plate appearances though, he has a .143 ISO and creates runs at the league average by WRC+. The catcher an under-owned positional option on the DraftKings slate. He is less viable but easily affordable at just $2,200 on the blue site tonight.

HR Call: Austin Riley — Atlanta Braves

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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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