MLB: The 2020 leaders in “True Exit Velocity”

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Blue Jays infielder Vlad Guerrero Jr. gets set to pound out another hit. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

We have fixed a flawed statistic to find out which players around MLB are truly hitting the ball the hardest.

Exit Velocity is one of the most looked-at of the various “new” statistics by which MLB fans judge player talent.

The reason is simple: The ability to consistently hit the ball hard is one of the most coveted of the game’s skills. It’s equivalent to a pitcher’s fastball velocity; a natural talent that gives those who can produce high exit velocities a decided advantage over their less blessed colleagues.

During the just completed 2020 season, for example, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. had the highest average exit velocity of any player who made enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

The stat services credit Tatis with an average exit velocity of 95.9 mph. That’s well above the MLB average, which is in the mid to high 80s.

But as presently calculated, exit velocity has an obvious and serious shortcoming: It only measures the velocities of balls that are actually hit. The formula includes no calculation for balls that are not hit – strikeouts.

That’s a significant weakness because year after year, the percentage of at bats ending in an exit velocity of zero continues to rise. In 2020, for instance, more than one-quarter of all official at bats ended in a strikeout. Exit Velocity chooses to pretend that those strikeouts never occurred.

Take Tatis, for example. His average Exit Velocity is based on the 196 times he put the ball in play. But Tatis actually had 257 official at bats in 2020; he struck out 61 times. That’s nearly 24 percent of the time.

There’s an easy and obvious fix. I call it “True Exit velocity.” Simply amend the present formula to include a 0.0 for each time a batter failed to put a ball in play. When you do that for Tatis, his 95.9 mph exit velocity becomes a more realistic and more meaningful 73.14 mph.

Here is a list of the 10 major leaguers with the highest exit velocities during 2020 as calculated by the present formula.  Also included is their “True Exit Velocity,” plus what their ranking would be if the formula for exit velocity was adapted.

           Player                                  EV           True EV (rank)

  1. Fernando Tatis Jr.             95.9        73.14 (37)
  2. Miguel Sano                      95.2        53.40 (142)
  3. Christian Yelich                 94.0        65.08 (118)
  4. Mike Trout                          93.7        65.08 (52)
  5. Teoscar Hernandez         93.3         64.90 (121)
  6. Corey Seager                     93.2        78.34 (8)
  7. Miguel Cabrera                 93.2        72.62 (44)
  8. Marcell Ozuna                   93.0        72.10 (50)
  9. Rafael Devers                    93.0        72.10 (94)
  10. Jose Abreu                         92.9         71.98 (51)

Notice that of the top 10 in exit velocity, only one remains among the top 10 for True Exit Velocity. Not to pick on Miguel Sano, but he falls 140 places when strikeouts are factored into the exit velocity equation, from virtually the top to literally the bottom of the 142-player list. Everybody knows that Christian Yelich had a bad season — he struck out 31 percent of the time — but in the flawed calculus of exit velocity Yelich supposedly had the third-best season in all of MLB.

Let’s take a look at how the list appears when strikeouts are factored into the formula. This more accurate list provides a greatly different perspective of who’s really making consistent strong contact at bat.

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