No Run First Inning Bets: What It Is, Where To Bet It, And How to Find Value in the Most Exciting Sweat in Baseball Betting
Mike Stobe/Getty Images. Pictured: Jacob deGrom
Betting on no runs being scored in the first inning — which I call the No Run First Inning, or NRFI for short — is a bet that’s quickly growing in popularity. I’ve seen a number of Twitter accounts dedicated entirely to the bet, including this one:
YTD: (11-4) with a 2-0 🧹💨 #NRFI
Truly the best bet in baseball. pic.twitter.com/9Tkgi7OxDz
— No Runs 1st Inning (@NoRuns1stInning) April 18, 2021
Sportsbooks have started to lean into the bet. Here, we see DraftKings boosting the NRFI for certain games:
THE NO RUNS IN THE FIRST INNING BOOST CASHES 🤑 pic.twitter.com/DLSBcLcPPG
— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) April 21, 2021
Why has this particular prop garnered so much attention?
Because it’s one of the most fun and electric bets in sports. It’s a short-and-thrilling bet that combines an insane sweat with instant gratification when it wins. With the NRFI, you don’t have to spend four hours waiting for a baseball bet to cash. Instead, you just need six quick outs at the beginning of the game.
As someone who has been playing this prop for years, I wanted to give an overview to those who may be unfamiliar, explaining the bet and some strategies to deploy when looking for NRFI value in a game. The goal is to make a profit on one of the most entertaining bets in sports.
I’ll also be using this guide to make some NRFI picks for today’s slate. So, let’s dive into one of the best sweats in all of sports.
Where to Bet the NRFI
Each sportsbook lists the first inning run prop in a different way. For example:
- BetMGM: Will there be a score in the first inning? Yes/No
- DraftKings: Total Runs – Inning 1: Under 0.5/Over 0.5
- FanDuel: 1st Innings Total Runs: 0 Runs/1 Run/2 Runs or more
- Bet365: A Run in the 1st Inning: Yes/No
- William Hill: Any Run in 1st Inning? Yes/No
- PointsBet: Total 1st Inning: Under 0.5/Over 0.5
These are all just different ways of phrasing the same wager, which allows you to bet on whether either team will score in the first inning.
Most books will offer this bet. Given the first inning prop market won’t be as robust or efficient as the full game market, it’s imperative that you line shop to get the best NRFI value.
When betting a NRFI, we’re looking to make six outs at the beginning of the game without a run scored. Therefore, we want to find games with two great starters and two poor lineups, correct?
Great pitchers will give us bad NRFI odds, and poor lineups will give us bad NRFI odds, and betting NRFIs in those situations just won’t be profitable. If the Nationals and the Mets play and Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are on the mound, the NRFI odds will be so juiced there’s simply no value there.
Instead, you have to “middle” it. The best NRFI bet features an underrated pitcher with good NRFI stats and an explosive lineup that’s slumping. This way, we can get odds that provide value in these specific situations.
When betting NRFIs, there are edges to be found. But it requires a comprehensive look at the starting pitchers and the lineups.
The Starting Pitchers
When sweating out a NRFI bet, we want to avoid trouble. That includes walks, singles, extra base hits, wild pitches and, most importantly, the dreaded NRFI-killing solo home run.
Given that, there are a few things to look for in a pitcher when evaluating NRFI bets.
First, a pitcher who can avoid baserunners is ideal. Therefore, we should target pitchers with a low WHIP, which means they’re good at avoiding guys on base.
Second, a high strikeout rate. A pitcher who strikes a lot of guys out serves a dual purpose in the NRFI bet. First, they don’t pitch to contact and therefore avoid ground ball variance trouble. Second, if the pitcher does allow baserunners, striking guys out is a great way to get out of a jam without allowing runs on sacrifice hits.
Third — and this might be the most important stat when evaluating NRFI pitchers — we need a low home run rate. The solo home run is the most devastating way to lose a NRFI bet, and therefore we need to target pitchers who don’t allow the long ball often.
For example: Max Scherzer is an astounding pitcher and will draw very juiced NRFI odds as a result. However, his home-run rate has been steadily increasing over the past few years (1.44 this year compared to 0.94 in 2018) and therefore he’s become a liability for NRFI bets.
Additionally, I’ll always look at a pitcher’s first-inning ERA before betting a NRFI. Baseball Reference tracks individual inning stats for every pitcher, and it’s a great reference point for NRFI bets.
For example: Stephen Strasburg has a career ERA of 3.21 and will regularly see juiced NRFI odds. However, he’s recorded a career first-inning ERA of 4.01, statistically his second-worst inning.
The ideal NRFI offense is an explosive offense that is slumping. This year’s Yankees team is the perfect example.
The Yankees feature big-time sluggers at the top of their lineup, most notably Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. But for how much power these two have, they’re also big swing-and-miss guys, as both strike out more than 30% of the time.
When these two and the rest of the Yankees are making contact, they’re incredibly dangerous and can score a lot of runs. However, this year has not been the case, as the Yankees are making contact on just 71.6% of their swings — the sixth lowest in baseball.
Given how scary the Yankees’ lineup is, they tend to draw short NRFI odds as a result. But the lineup has been swinging and missing at a very high rate, and as a result rank dead last in batting average (.203) and slugging (.348) so far this season.
This creates value for NRFI bets. And it shows this season, as the Yankees are scoring a measly .05 first inning runs per game, which is the lowest in baseball.
So, while we know the Yankees have been a good NRFI offense, how can we find other good NRFI offenses?
First, we know the Yankees are the worst first inning offense in baseball because TeamRankings tracks first inning runs per game. This is a great resource and should always be evaluated when considering a NRFI bet, especially because it keeps track of first inning runs per game in four different ways — overall, at home, on the road and in the past three games.
Second, we can find other slumping offenses by looking at the team splits leaderboards on FanGraphs and sorting by the last seven days. At the time of this writing, the Nationals have been the worst offense in baseball over the last seven days, with a .230 wOBA and a 42 wRC+.
Finally, always consider the injury report when evaluating a NRFI bet. If there’s a key injury at the top of the lineup, that provides one of the biggest NRFI edges. For example: When Ronald Acuña Jr. was injured for the Braves, the most efficient hitter at the top of the lineup was out, making it much less likely they’d score in that frame.
So, given everything I just wrote, let’s look at some NRFI bets today that provide value.
Washington Nationals vs. Toronto Blue Jays
- PointsBet: Total First Inning – Under 0.5 (-105)
- Starting Pitchers: Erick Fedde vs. Steven Matz
As mentioned above, the Nationals have been one of the worst lineups over the past seven days. A big reason for that has been the injury of Juan Soto, who has left the top of the Washington order in disarray.
While the top of Nationals’ order is searching for runs, Blue Jays starter Steven Matz has been excellent. Through four starts, Matz has posted the lowest WHIP (0.94) and HR/9 (0.77) of his career. Meanwhile, he’s struck out more than 27% of batters faced and has yet to allow a first inning run this season.
The Blue Jays are a great offensive team, but they’ve really struggled in recent games. The Blue Jays have posted a .299 wOBA and an 87 wRC+ in the last seven days, both of which rank in the bottom 10 in MLB. Likewise, they’ve struggled against lefties, posting just a .292 wOBA against southpaws this season.
Meanwhile, so far this season, Nationals starter Erick Fedde is boasting a career-high strikeout percentage (24.3%) and a career-low HR/9 (0.55) while also allowing zero first inning runs.
All in all, we have two slumping lineups against starting pitchers whose statistics indicate they can take advantage in the first frame. At -105, this NRFI is a steal.
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets
- PointsBet: Total First Inning – Under 0.5 (-131)
- Starting Pitchers: Nick Pivetta vs. Jacob deGrom
While I may have argued to stay away from pitchers like deGrom in NRFI bets, this line oozes value at -131.
Honestly, this NRFI line should be somewhere closer to -200. But the Red Sox’s lineup has been dominant, the Mets’ lineup features big names like Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso, and Nick Pivetta has yet to draw due respect from bookmakers.
Pivetta is the key to this bet, as we know the value deGrom brings to a NRFI bet. But Pivetta is having the best start of his career, as his ERA, FIP, WHIP and HR/9 would all be career lows over a full season.
While the Mets’ lineup has started to heat up, they haven’t generated runs in the first frame yet, as the Mets rank 22nd in first inning runs per game scored this season.
deGrom has been pitching better than anyone over the past 20 years, but Pivetta has been excellent in his own right, while the top of the Mets’ order has yet to break out. I think this NRFI line offers value at -131.