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How Stephen Strasburg has remained immune in The Year of the Home Run

From ESPN - September 17, 2017

In case you have not heard, home runs are up. Like, way up. But for Stephen Strasburg, homers are down.

Truth be told, everything is down for Strasburg this year, in a good way. But the thing that really sticks out is his improved ability to keep the ball in the park, especially in a season that has seen more taters than an Idaho farmers' convention. To fully grasp just how stingy the Nats' pitcher has been with the longball, consider his past four starts:

1. Aug. 24 at Houston: Facing a stacked Astros lineup that came into the game tied for the major-league lead in home runs, Strasburg gives up zero bombs.

2. Aug. 30 vs. Miami: A day after blue-hot Giancarlo Stanton went yard for the 18th time in the month (tying an MLB record for August), Strasburg tosses a complete game in which he keeps Stanton in the park all three times he faces him.

3. Sept. 5 at Miami: Despite homering twice in his previous three games (Nos. 51 and 52), Stanton -- who by the way has owned Strasburg over the course of his career -- goes without a homer against the Washington righty, as do the rest of the Marlins.

4. Sept. 10 vs. Philly: Strasburg holds Rhys Hoskins (and the Phillies) without a home run. It's the only contest during a six-game stretch in which Hoskins, the rookie phenom who has hit 18 homers in 36 games, fails to go deep.

On the year, in 156 ⅔ innings, Strasburg has given up just 13 homers, the best mark among National League starters and three fewer than anyone other than the Rangers' Andrew Cashner and the Tigers' Michael Fulmer. Sure, Strasburg missed four starts because of an elbow impingement, but even when we account for that and look at rates instead of absolute numbers, Strasburg still ranks No. 1 in the NL with a 2.1 percent home run rate that, if he's able to maintain it, would be the lowest of his career (not including 2010 and 2011, his first two seasons, when he made a combined 17 starts). That might not sound like a big deal, but given that home runs have become almost as common as fidget spinners, it's mammoth.

So, what has changed? He has cut back on the cheese.

For all the fuss over Strasburg's fastball -- when he exploded onto the scene in 2010, the former top overall pick averaged 98 mph with his heater, highest among all starters -- it has gotten him into trouble. Before this season, 68 of the 88 career homers that Strasburg had given up came on fastballs. That works out to 77 percent -- or 20 percent higher than the league norm (from 2010 to 2016, only 57 percent of all home runs came against gas). This year, that rate is exactly the same, as 10 of his 13 homers allowed have been on heaters (77 percent). The difference is, he has figured out that when it comes to fastballs, less is more.

Coming into this season, Strasburg's lifetime fastball usage was 61 percent, well above league average. This year, his fastball use is a career-low 52 percent, right on par with the MLB norm. Instead, he's throwing more slow stuff, especially at the beginning of at-bats.

Now that we are all down with HORP, let's look at Strasburg's numbers (again, ignoring 2010 and 2011):

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