MLB props: Just say 'Yes' to a run in the first inning

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

April 21, 2022 10:53 PM
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We are an impatient society. A quick resolution works well in a lot of areas, including the betting market. As prop betting has increased in both supply and demand, sportsbooks have found ways to set lines that offer instant gratification.

Wagers such as “First to 10,” “No Score in the first 6:30” and “Goal in the first 10 minutes,” to name a few, are popular because they don’t require following an entire game. The bet is resolved quickly and everybody is able to move on.

These types of bets are good for both the bettor and the book. 

The bettor can make a bet, have it graded and move on to the next thing. They are simple, straightforward wagers that require as deep of a handicap as one wants to complete. 

They are good for the book because winnings are likely to be reinvested and losses end the action for bettors, who will often move on to something new.

With any bet, you have to be smart, disciplined and have a plan of attack, and that is especially true for these quick-hit handicaps. You can dig a pretty deep hole by running bad and chasing on a nightly basis.

In MLB betting, the “Yes/No Run in the First Inning” wager has taken off in recent  seasons. Abbreviated YRFI or NRFI, these bets have gained steam on social media and are driven in popularity by the exposure — and, of course, by the instant gratification.

Before you dive into this market, there are a few things you should know:

The first inning is the highest-scoring inning: Since 2010, the first inning has been the highest-scoring inning in every season except 2020. The COVID-shortened season had a lot of outliers, and many baseball bettors dismiss that weird year altogether.

Not only is the first the highest-scoring inning, it hasn’t been close most seasons. Here are the total runs scored in the first inning in each season since 2010, with the scoring gap between the first inning and the next-highest-scoring inning:

— 2021: 2,696, + 148

— 2020: 927 (fifth-highest)

— 2019: 2,814, + 53

— 2018: 2,657, + 119

— 2017: 2,775, + 98 

— 2016: 2,692, + 111 

— 2015: 2,656, + 206 

— 2014: 2,365, (tied for first)

— 2013: 2,453, + 30

— 2012: 2,735, + 231  

— 2011: 2,547, + 15

— 2010: 2,566, + 34

In five of the last six full seasons, the first inning has been the highest-scoring by at least 98 runs and by as many as 206. 

There are about 2,430 games in a full season. As you can see, from 2015-2021 (not including 2020, of course) average first-inning scoring was more than one run. There were 924 games played in 2020, so even that season averaged more than a run per first inning. 

Using last season as an example, pitchers had a 4.71 ERA in the first inning. Batters hit 775 home runs, which was 64 more than they hit in any other inning (fifth inning was next). 

Those first-inning numbers all came without the times-through-the-order penalty, which is a very real thing. Pitchers allowed a .238/.305/.403 slash (BA/OBP/SLG) the first time through the order, which was better than a .253/.318/.429 the second time through and a .262/.327/.453 the third time through.

Why does this first-inning phenomenon exist?

The best hitters are guaranteed to bat in the first inning: Managers construct their lineups with their best hitters at the top. The leadoff batter always begins the first inning, therefore, in theory, the best hitters on the team bat in the first inning.

BA, OBP and SLG are almost always going to be the highest in the first inning because the best hitters are getting opportunities.

Also, sometimes pitchers don’t have a feel for their pitches early in the game. Pitchers can and will make adjustments throughout a start, but all it takes is one mistake in the first for a run to be scored.

What do we do with this information? I only look for spots to bet “Yes” for a first-inning run. That doesn’t mean I’m betting it blindly across the board. It just means I’m taking my chances on the data playing out as it should and the top of the batting order doing its thing. Even the rise of the “opener,” where a reliever starts the game in an attempt to neutralize the top of the order and push the starter deeper into the game, hasn’t had a tremendous impact.

So far this season (through Monday), the first inning ranks second in runs scored and home runs, behind the eighth inning, but relief pitchers should stabilize and the first inning should lead the way again. The first inning ranks the highest in BA, OBP, hits and walks, so there have been plenty of baserunners but teams haven’t fully cashed in. 

I’ll continue to monitor the numbers throughout the season, with periodic updates in my daily MLB reports at VSiN.com.

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