After an action-packed weekend, we’re taking a bit of a step back with a 10-game Monday slate, but there are still plenty of great wagers on the board. Let’s go find some value in the odds for No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 7/24/2023 and make some predictions.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Milwaukee Brewers NRFI (+110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Graham Ashcraft (5-7, 5.77 ERA) vs. RHP Colin Rea (5-4, 4.64 ERA)
At a glance this one looks like a YRFI candidate, just by looking at the starting pitching matchup. Rea has been somewhere around league-average this year, perhaps a bit worse, while the youngster Ashcraft has been pretty brutal for much of the season. Neither one grades particularly well on Statcast either for the most part, although Rea’s wide arsenal of pitches has allowed him to limit quality of contact significantly, and Ashcraft’s fastball and cutter are strong both in terms of spin and velocity.
One thing these guys both have in common is an almost-inexplicable mastery of the first inning. In Rea’s 16 starts, his four runs allowed in the first frame give him an ERA of 2.25, while Ashcraft has been even better with a figure of 1.50 across 18 first innings. Both of these guys seem to start strong before they start to fade or get figured out, and they’re going up against offenses that show some mixed trends.
Milwaukee’s offense is just 24th overall in terms of runs per game, but 10th in the first inning, while Cincy is 9th overall but closer to league-average in the first inning. I think both of these pitchers have a great chance to beat the odds and provide you with a plus-value payout by getting the first three outs.
Seattle Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins NRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Luis Castillo (6-7, 3.04 ERA) vs. RHP Kenta Maeda (2-5, 5.10 ERA)
This probably comes closest to a “traditional” NRFI pick out of everything on this list, as one of the two sides is featuring a veritable ace. That would be Mariners righty Luis Castillo, who has continued to be excellent in his first full year with the club. As we can see from his advanced metrics, Castillo does a lot of things right, he throws hard and with spin, doesn’t walk batters, and forces some uncompetitive swings. He’s been around his overall standard in the first inning, and will face a Minnesota offense that has tended to start strong, but is bottom-10 overall.
On the other side, we have a pitcher who has struggled a good bit this year, but has a good track record overall and is showing some trends that should lead us to believe in him in this spot. After missing last year with an injury, Kenta Maeda had a tough start to the year, but has settled down a good deal since then, and has been particularly strong in the first frame with an ERA of 2.00. He’s tasked with shutting down a Seattle lineup that has been something of a disappointment, sitting around league average in total scoring and a bit worse in first inning output, and I have confidence in Maeda to get the job done.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks YRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Adam Wainwright (3-4, 7.66 ERA) vs. RHP Ryne Nelson (6-5, 4.82 ERA)
Adam Wainwright has had a truly legendary career, one of the great one-team tenures in league history spanning nearly two decades. It has included three All Star bids, an incredible four top-3 Cy Young finishes without ever holding the trophies, and of course a championship. Unfortunately, his best years, as well as even his pretty good years, are behind him as he has been completely ineffective in his swansong season, to the tune of an ERA in the mid-7s. That number has only been marginally better in the first inning, and it brings me no joy to say this, but fading him has been one of the top betting strategies this season.
He’s also going up against an Arizona offense that is top-7 in terms of both runs per game, and first-inning scoring. They’ve been productive early on against pitchers who are much better than this version of Wainwright, and have a great chance to get after him on Monday. Arizona’s starter, Ryne Nelson, hasn’t had as tough of a time as Wainwright, but he’s been below-average by most measures, and is also facing an offense that is right around top ten in both first inning and overall scoring; runs could get on the board early in this one.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight a few honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
Texas Rangers vs. Houston Astros NRFI (-110)
This is a tough one since it’s two strong offenses, both of which can hit in the first inning. The reason we’re investing in NRFI is that it’s an opportunity to grab near-even odds on probably the best SP matchup of the day, between Houston’s Brandon Bielak, and Jon Gray for the Rangers. The veteran Gray and the less-experienced Bielak are both working on career-best ERA totals with numbers in the low to mid 3’s. They both have shown great stuff, especially Gray, and they have every ability to get through three outs before surrendering a run against the opposing lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Los Angeles Dodgers NRFI (+105)
LA’s starter, the young Michael Grove, has had some struggles in year 2 as a pro, but he has been quite the strong starter, with an ERA of 3.86 in the first frame. He’s also facing a Toronto offense that is about league-average overall, and a tier worse in the first inning. By contrast, José Berrios has had a really strong year, and as hot as LA has generally been on offense of late, not a lot of the scoring has happened as early as the first frame. This one is great value with plus-odds, and has a really strong chance to hit.