MLB NRFI Picks Today, Model Predictions for Thursday, July 20

MLB NRFI Picks Today, Model Predictions for Thursday, July 20 article feature image

Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Marcus Stroman

We had a solid day yesterday, hitting one of our two plus-money plays while going 2-1 on our standard bets for a profit of about a unit (depending on the odds you got.)

Four more picks today, with the first game starting at 12:20 p.m. ET.

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 Thursday, July 20

Toronto Blue Jays vs. San Diego Padres NRFI: While this game has a nine-run total, it also features two pitchers with excellent first time through the order splits. Chris Bassitt and Blake Snell have an average ERA of 3.21 their first time through the order, and neither team is particularly top-heavy offensively.

Kansas City Royals vs. Detroit Tigers YRFI: Outside of the nine-run total, this projection mostly comes down to Tigers starter Michael Lorenzen. He has a 4.70 xFIP his first time through the order, with far better numbers later in games.

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Baltimore Orioles NRFI: Another game featuring two pitchers who do their best work early in contests, plus the total is just 8.5.  The bulk of the risk is on the Rays' side, so hedging with the Rays' team-specific line at +205 makes sense here as well — though my model doesn't make that a plus-EV bet in and of itself.

Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals NRFI: This game has two pitchers with solid first time through the order splits and two offenses with below-average production from their top three hitters. That combination has this game as the least likely for a first inning run by a slight margin.

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