A fastball down the middle of the plate is theoretically the easiest pitch to hit in baseball, so which Angels players crushed that pitch the most?
Whether you’re playing baseball on your school diamond where the grass doesn’t quite separate from the dirt, or you’re watching a game on TV, everyone has either yelled it themselves, or heard it said many times. A pitch right over the middle of the plate, a meatball. I’m picturing the evil New York Mets player in Rookie of the Year squeezing sawdust out of his bat, his tongue spilling out of his mouth, as he waits to demolish the easiest pitch in baseball (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).
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Major League pitchers usually don’t make it so easy on opposing hitters. In fact, some would call their stuff nasty. They throw fastballs that look like they’re rising, breaking balls that start flat and then dive in the dirt, offspeed pitches that appear at first like fastballs until they reach the plate a second late. So when a Major League hitter gets a meatball, they better crush it.
Who is the best meatball hitter on the Angels? To answer this question I sorted through every pitch from 2019 to pinpoint what I will classify as the easiest pitch to hit in baseball, a fastball over the middle of the plate. Or perhaps I should say, the easiest pitch to hit without the use of trash cans, but I digress. The graphic below highlights the top Angels sluggers vs meatballs last season.
As you would have guessed, when the best player in baseball receives an easy pitch to hit, he crushes it. Mike Trout saw 43 meatballs last season and hit .465 on those pitches with a slugging percentage over 1.000. Believe it or not, he did swing and miss on three meatballs, John Kruk style from Rookie of the Year, but nobody is perfect.
The player who saw their performance boosted the most by meatballs was Kole Calhoun. He turned from a slugger who was slightly better than league average to a superstar when he saw red down the middle of the plate.
Now, you could say that every hitter probably performs better when served up a batting practice pitch, so what does any of this really tell us? For context, the league average slugging percentage vs meatballs in 2019 was 0.664. Mike Trout hit nearly 400 points better than league average! Both Kole Calhoun and Tommy La Stella also hit well over league average. It tells us that David Fletcher and Andrelton Simmons hit below league average, but both saw their hitting prowess receive a significant bump.
And then there is Albert Pujols. The 40-year old, who is serving out the back-nine of his career in Anaheim, can’t even jumpstart his swing against the easiest pitch in baseball. He hit a measly .279 against meatballs, ranking 139th out of 171 players who saw at least thirty such pitches last season.
Meatballs are theoretically the easiest pitch to hit in baseball, and while not every Angels player raked as much as the next, when a fastball comes directly over the plate, the results are mostly what you would expect.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and Baseball-Reference.