By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst
The Professor is back! Today we’re going to talk about an MLB bet that’s sweeping the nation: “No Run First Inning” (NRFI). There is also the alternative: “Yes Run First Inning” (YRFI).
This wager plays out exactly how it’s named: will either team score a run in the first inning? This is the bet for you if you’re a gambler who wants instant gratification. By the end of the first inning, you will know if your wager cashes. It really is that simple.
To play along on FOX Bet, go to any individual game, click “Wagers” in the lower right-hand corner, click “Innings” and then the first bet listed is “What Inning will Run 1 be Scored”. Here, we’ll only discuss the first option: Inning 1.
Let’s start with general trends. So far, 713 out of 1,447 games have had at least one first-inning run (49.27%). This mark is actually down compared to last season’s 50.35%. While we still have several weeks left of warmer weather which is conducive to hitting (as we’ve discussed), we are still dealing with rates hovering around 50%. When you add in the juice, you quickly realize blindly betting “yes” or “no” is not helpful.
Next, let’s break it down by team. Meaning, are there any teams that stick out? There are many resources that help us make this determination. Team Rankings lists rates of how often each ball club has scored in the first inning this season. After going through the data, we find the Dodgers lead the way, scoring 38.3% of the time in the first inning, followed by the Twins, Cubs and Blue Jays.
This website also shows how often a squad’s opponent scores in the opening frame. The teams that have allowed the most runs right away are the Tigers (40.63%), followed by the Nationals, Diamondbacks and White Sox.
However, just because a ball club has scored or allowed first-inning runs in the past does not necessarily mean that they will in the future. Other factors matter more, like the pitcher and top of the batting order, so let’s dig in.
Fortunately, we can be even more granular. Baseball Savant provides the starting lineup and starting pitcher for every game, complete with key Statcast statistics. What we care about the most are the first six hitters and their expected weighted on-base averages (xwOBA). Again, expected stats are more predictive and are likelier to help us win our bets than basic box score numbers. Think of expected stats as the secret sauce.
This season, an average xwOBA for the first six in the order is .321. So for betting purposes, we want to see multiple guys greater than .321, and they should be closer to the top of the order than the middle. After all, the first three hitters will have an at-bat, but approximately 61.8% of the time, the clean-up hitter gets a turn in the first inning. Then, these rates go down for the fifth and sixth spots.
The downside to this approach? Ball clubs do not announce starting lineups until a few hours before first pitch, so you have to wait. Also, lines could move based upon this information, so you may have to react quickly. However, if you want to bet before the public has additional information, starting pitchers are announced well in advance, and looking up things like xwOBA allowed can still offer a clue.
Yankees’ Aaron Judge & Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back home runs
Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back home runs to give the New York Yankees a 2-0 lead over the New York Mets.
I have already mentioned which teams have scored and allowed the most first-inning runs this season, but for something more predictive, let’s jump into which ball clubs have had the most and least prolific top of the orders:
New York Yankees – Maybe that Aaron Judge guy has something to do with the Yankees topping the list. MLB’s home run leader is almost always batting second, often with Anthony Rizzo backing him up, and once Giancarlo Stanton returns from the IL, the Bronx Bombers should stay dangerous.
Houston Astros – So much for leadoff man Jose Altuve being a question mark after missing the All-Star Game. The Astros slugger has a hit in five of six games since the break. And while Alex Bregman has moved from third to fourth, he still ranks 60th in xwOBA (.335).
On the flip side, here are the cellar dwellers:
Detroit Tigers – When looking up batting orders for the season, when 11 players have batted fifth and there’s no predominant player at any one spot, it’s often a bad sign. No one for the Tigers has kept their spot in the order for half their games. I don’t see the Tigers improving.
Oakland A’s – As an offense, the A’s rank last in MLB in on-base percentage (.275), batting average (.214) and second worst in runs scored per game (3.39). The top of the order also reflects these numbers.
Certainly you can go even deeper looking for opportunities to pounce on first-inning bets. I leave you with some additional tips. Hitters with the platoon advantage (hitting from the opposite side as the pitcher throws) can enhance the chance of reaching base. Hitter-friendly ballparks also help but don’t go simply off of reputation, look up Statcast data to determine where you will see more offense. Find games where the temperature for the first pitch will be warmer than usual. Find teams with injuries where their defenses may be shuffled to where inexperienced players are on the field or regulars are out of their usual positions. Lastly, check the moneyline to make sure you are not overpaying if you bet on a hot offense.
Good luck and class dismissed!
Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football. Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports.
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