The St. Louis Cardinals' meatball meltdown is a recipe for disaster

Meatballs are the ideal pitch for hitters in baseball. The Cardinals have faltered when hitting them.
St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres
St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

When I was in college, one of the few fine eateries on campus was Subway. The selection at Subway was vast, but it wasn't always delicious. My go-to order was often the meatball marinara. It was a delicious sub when toasted, and meatballs have always been one of my favorite meat entrees.

Baseball players, too, love meatballs but not in the same sense as my college self. Rather, baseball players love easy pitches in the heart of the plate. These pitches are easy to hit hard and far, and it's often a mistake by the pitcher. Meatballs don't occur often in baseball, around 7.5% of the time on average, but when they do, it's best for a hitter to jump on it. actually gives an official definition for a "meatball": an easy pitch to hit, usually right down the middle of the plate.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't been able to do that this year. According to Baseball Savant, the Cardinals have seen the most meatballs this year by percentage. 8.5% of the pitches Cardinal hitters have seen this year have been dubbed "meatballs". That's great! The Cardinals have seen easy pitches to hit more often than other teams.

The issue, however, is that batters aren't swinging at this generous quantity of meat. Rather, the Cardinals have the lowest meatball swing percentage of any team in baseball. They're swinging at just 73% of these juicy offerings.

Mark Sweeney brought up this issue after the Cardinals' game against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night. He called out Cardinal hitters for not swinging at fastballs, especially fastballs down the middle of the plate.

Let's do some math. Cardinal hitters have seen 8,776 pitches prior to games on June 5th. That means they've seen approximately 746 meatball pitches, ones that are easy to hit. They've swung at just 544 of those pitches. That's still a lot of meatball swings, but the figure should be much higher. The Dodgers have swung at the most meatballs, and they have seen 0.7% fewer easy pitches this year. They also happen to be one of the best teams in baseball.

From a player perspective, Paul Goldschmidt (9.9%) and Brendan Donovan (9.4%) have seen the first and fourth-highest percentages of meatballs this year. They are only swinging at 70.4% and 64.4%(!!!) of those easy pitches, respectively. These two hitters are supposed to be table setters for the rest of the lineup. If they aren't hitting these easy pitches, it sets the rest of the lineup up for failure.

On the pitching side of the game, Sonny Gray has thrown the 6th-highest percentage of meatballs this year (9.2%), but batters are swinging at them only 70.1% of the time. Kyle Gibson has thrown meatballs at the second-lowest rate (5.2%), and batters are swinging at these pitches just 67.2% of the time.

Meatballs should be the pitches that hitters swing it. They're good opportunities to capitalize on a pitcher's mistake and punish him. Rather than using these easy-to-hit pitches to take an advantage offensively, the Cardinals are instead letting them pass.