Why baseball ratings are low

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Steve Lepore of SBNation has a smart take on why ratings for nationally-televised MLB games are low and continue to trend downward. Unlike every other take you see on this, however, it is not attributed to people hating baseball or baseball not being as cool and awesome as football.

Rather, it’s a story those of you who have been reading HBT for a while know already: it’s a story about fragmentation and localization. Whereas, years ago, baseball fans could only see a relatively low number of local games now they can see all of them if they want to, making a “Game of the Week” less necessary than it once was. At the same time, as fans become more immersed in their own team they become less willing to watch other teams, exacerbating the trend away from nationally televised games. And once their team is eliminated? Pfft, forget it.

It’s also a story about the dynamic of baseball not being terribly well-suited to casual drop-in fans who want to see one big game because, with few exceptions, baseball doesn’t really ever have “one big game.” This, I will admit, is an indirect result of the rise of the NFL. With only 16 games and so many winner-take-all contests, the idea of the event telecast — of structuring your Sunday around one game — is much stronger than it used to be when the NFL was less popular and there were more regional broadcasts.

The real health of baseball on television is a look at aggregate ratings across all regional broadcasts. I’ve not seen these numbers but I would suspect that they show baseball to be a healthy TV sport overall, even if it’s in the dumps, ratings-wise, on the national level.

Can anything be done about the national problems, though? Lepore has one rather radical suggestion which you may hate. Click through and read to find out. But man, if that’s the choice we have, I’ll gladly accept the lower ratings.

Dusty Baker expects Stephen Strasburg to make his next scheduled start

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Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg lasted only two innings in Sunday’s start against the Diamondbacks. The right-hander reportedly had trouble getting loose and it showed: he yielded a hit and three walks to the 10 batters he faced. According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Strasburg had “some nerve impingement that has been alleviated.”

Manager Dusty Baker expects Strasburg to make his next scheduled start on Saturday at home against the Rockies, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Strasburg was examined by doctors, who deemed him to be in good shape — enough to not warrant undergoing an MRI.

Through 20 starts, Strasburg owns a 3.25 ERA with a 141/37 K/BB ratio across 121 2/3 innings. Though the injury scare isn’t what the Nationals hoped for, he’s done well in the first year of his seven-year, $175 million contract extension.

John Lackey hit four White Sox batters today

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Cubs starter John Lackey didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field against the White Sox. The right-hander hit four White Sox batters over the course of five innings. He yielded just two runs, though, on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He left with a 4-2 lead.

Lackey hit Jose Abreu with one out in the first inning, then hit Abreu again in the fifth. He then hit Matt Davidson and Yoan Moncada shortly thereafter. Chris Beck relieved Carlos Rodon for the White Sox in the bottom of the fifth and promptly hit Ian Happ with a fastball to lead off the frame. Home plate umpire Lance Barksdale issued warnings to both benches and the beanings stopped.

So, how often do pitchers hit four batters in a game? Not that often! The last to do it was the Reds’ Josh Smith on July 4, 2015 against the Brewers. Before that, it was the Nationals’ Livan Hernandez on July 20, 2005 against the Rockies. Lackey is only the ninth pitcher to hit four batters in a game since 2000 and the 26th since 1913. The only other Cubs pitcher to do it besides Lackey was Moe Drabowsky in 1957.