MLB NRFI Picks Today, Model Predictions for Friday, July 21

MLB NRFI Picks Today, Model Predictions for Friday, July 21 article feature image

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Houston Astros logo

We booked a slight loss on Thursday, thanks to an unearned run with two outs in a game where we had the NRFI.

That kind of variance swings our way as much as against us though, so hopefully it'll work in our favor this time around.

We have buys for Friday's slate, with five NRFI/YRFI bets, including a team-specific pick.

The Model

The process is relatively simple. First, I start by assuming that the full game (implied) run totals for either team are roughly efficient.

As mentioned above, that tends to be the case more often than not. This saves me the trouble of trying to predict the total runs scored in the game — and allows me to focus strictly on the "when" rather than "how many."

Next, I built a database of pitchers performance the first time through the order, relative to their overall stats. Since the latter is presumably baked into the full game total, I wanted to figure out if those runs are more likely to come early or late.

Most — but not all — MLB starters do somewhat better early in games, but with some variance in just how much. The model uses xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching) as the ERA predictor of choice.

That's only half of the equation, though, with the offenses making up the other half. To do this, I looked at what percentage of a team's total runs is produced by the top three batters in the lineup.

While a first inning run scored, by definition, needs at least four hitters to come to the plate, one of the first three has to actually score it. The metric of choice here is wRC+, based on the projected lineup for the day from each team.

This is a bit of a tradeoff, as lineups (and run totals) can shift throughout the day, especially if significant contributors miss time.

However, in my experience the inefficiency of the morning lines more than makes up for the leakage in the model. With that said, exercise caution if, say, Mike Trout is listed as questionable for the night's game.

The Picks

With all of the picks below, I'll include the pick, the best line and the threshold I'd bet it to. These will go up in the morning, so if any major news breaks between publishing and when you read it, be sure to consider that.

Infrequently, rather than betting on the traditional YRFI/NRFI, the pick will be on one team or the other specifically to score a run, which as of this writing is only a betting option at DraftKings.

Since the model handles each team individually, sometimes one team is projecting for a greater proportion of the "run equity" in the first inning than the betting lines are accounting for.

NRFI Odds, Picks for Friday, July 21

San Diego Padres vs. Detroit Tigers YRFI: The Padres are one of the better teams at the top of their lineup, as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto get guaranteed at-bats and Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts lurk behind them. They're driving the bulk of the equity here against the Tigers' Reese Olson, but Detroit has made strides offensively as well of late.

Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI: This is a very generous line for a game with an eight-run total, and it would be worth taking — absent any other information. It helps that the weaker of the two starters (Baltimore's Kyle Bradish) has better splits the first time through the order, which balances the run equity fairly evenly here.

New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox YRFI: We're paying a bit of juice here, but not enough to take the value out of this game with its 9.5-run total. Both starters are actually a bit worse their first time through the order as well, which boosts the chances of an early run considerably — though it's annoying that the best hitter for both teams is hitting cleanup and not third.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cleveland Guardians NRFI: The Phillies are one of the most "balanced" offenses in the league, meaning their top three hitters provide the smallest share of their run production. On the other hand, Cleveland is just bad, ranking 27th in wRC+ against lefties.

Houston Astros YRFI: The game YRFI at even money is a solid bet, but I prefer the Astros-specific line. They make up the bulk of the equity anyway, and +225 is a great value considering I make the fair line +170 or so. As always, bet the team-specific line at half of your usual unit.

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