The MLB season is coming down to the wire, and with teams pushing their hardest for every win, there’s plenty of action in Sunday’s slate. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/14/2023 and make some predictions.
Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox NRFI (+100)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Eduardo Rodríguez (8-5, 2.75 ERA) vs.RHP Kutter Crawford (5-6, 3.80 ERA)
Let’s get started with the earliest game of the day, and potentially the best value too. With even-money odds, it’s hard to find a better deal on a NRFI between two solid pitchers than this one, featuring the Tigers’ Eduardo Rodríguez and Boston’s Kutter Crawford. Both of these guys are having good years overall, especially Rodríguez, and the two have nearly-identical first inning ERAs, with both guys sporting a number close to the 3.20 mark.
To top it off, neither starter has to face a first inning juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. Boston’s offense has been solid overall this year, but ranks below league average in terms of first inning scoring. Detroit’s offense, which is 29th in the league in runs per game, ranks slightly better in the first inning, but that still only leaves them in 25th, not exactly elite status. With two solid arms ready to go, and no particularly strong first inning lineups to go after them, this one is an excellent bet at +100 odds.
Minnesota Twins vs. Philadelphia Phillies NRFI (-113)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Sonny Gray (5-5, 3.18 ERA) vs. LHP Ranger Suárez (2-5, 3.96ERA)
The decision to go after the NRFI in this interleague game, which admittedly features some solid first-inning offenses, comes down to the starting pitching matchup. On one hand, you have Sonny Gray, who has been strong enough this year to hang around the AL Cy Young discussion with the likes of Gerrit Cole and Kevin Gausman. He’s been even more lights-out in the first inning, where he’s earning a ridiculous 0.78 ERA across 23 appearances; he’s simply not letting anyone get off to a hot start.
Opposing Gray will be Philly’s Ranger Suárez, who has not been nearly as lights-out as his counterpart on the other side. That being said, he’s coming off of a pair of strong outings in which he allowed just three earned runs across 12 innings of work. Perhaps most notably for our purposes, none of those three runs were scored in the first inning, a personal NRFI streak for Suárez that dates back a game further. He hasn’t been my favorite pitcher to back this season, but there’s reason to believe he’s turning a corner, and should stand a great chance to get through three outs before conceding a run on Sunday.
Oakland Athletics vs. Washington Nationals YRFI (-132)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Ken Waldichuk (2-7, 6.30 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Williams (5-7, 5.00 ERA)
Yes, this looks suspiciously like betting on the A’s offense, but don’t forget that it’s also an opportunity to fade their league-worst pitching staff. Most specifically, that means Ken Waldichuk this Sunday, not a name that inspires confidence at this time with a 6.30 season ERA. He has the pleasure of throwing against Washington’s lineup, quietly the fifth-best first inning unit in the majors. Suffice it to say that the Nats will be expecting some early runs, especially at home where they have done particularly well (0.70 runs per first inning compared with 0.57 on the road)
It’s also worth noting that Oakland’s first inning offense, while not outstanding by any possible definition, is not quite as horrible as you might imagine, as they rank 22nd in baseball for that category. They also perform much better on the road as compared to the pitcher-friendly Coliseum, averaging 0.68 runs per first inning rather than the 0.25 they put up at home. In fact, that number ties them with Houston as the league’s best road first inning offense, and would put them in fourth on the first inning leaderboard if it were their average across home and away games. They get to face Trevor Williams, who is saddled with a first inning ERA close to 6.00.
Cleveland Guardians vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-128)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Tanner Bibee (8-2, 2.92 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Eflin (12-6, 3.34 ERA)
This one is about three quarters of the way to being an absolute slam dunk NRFI, and is worth a play even at minus-odds. Half of what we need to really be bullish on a NRFI is two good starting pitchers, and we definitely have that with two guys who have impressed in different ways. Bibee, a rookie, has kept his ERA below 3.00 across 18 outings and over 100 innings thus far. FIP and WHIP both say he’s been a little lucky, but it’s still quite the accomplishment if he can keep it up.
Conversely, Eflin’s ERA appears to be strong rather than otherworldly, but he has perhaps been a bit unlucky. His FIP is below 3.00, and he’s the proud owner of the best WHIP in the Major Leagues. Both guys have kept a high standard in the first inning, with Eflin’s numbers even better than his overall averages. Cleveland’s first inning offense is the league’s 24th best, no surprise for a lineup that has lacked juice all season. The missing quarter to this being a lock of the day is a second bad offense, and Tampa’s is definitely better than I’d like, but they don’t experience much of a home bump which is definitely nice to see.