True Exit Velocity: The best MLB players at really making hard contact in 2023

Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) walks
Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) walks / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Exit velocity is one of the hot new stats by which the baseball cognoscenti judge player performance. But it is also probably the single most flawed of the new stats because it only quantifies contact when a ball is put in play.

In an era when more than one-quarter of all at bats end in no contact at all – the player having struck out – that’s an obvious weakness of the stat.

Just to cite one of many potential illustrations of the problem, MLB’s exit velocity stat rated Toronto’s Matt Chapman fourth in all of baseball for the speed at which the ball left his bat. Chapman’s 2023 exit velocity is listed at 93.4 mph.

But that fails to consider that Chapman fanned 165 times; that’s 32.4 percent of his actual at bats. When you re-figure accounting for the fact that in those 165 instances Chapman produced an exit velocity of 0.0, his True Exit Velocity drops all the way to 63.12 mph.

That’s why True Exit Velocity, which is not a recognized MLB stat but ought to be, is a better indicator of contact.

If Chapman wasn’t actually among the game’s top 10 batters in exit velocity in 2023, who was? Factoring in a player’s ability to actually hit the ball, who did produce the highest True Exit Velocity?

Before detailing that stat, let’s begin by recapping the 10 players MLB says were the best in producing exit velocity in 2023. Here’s the official list.

Player                                           EV

  1. Ronald Acuna Jr. 94.7

2.       Shohei Ohtani                   94.4

3.       Matt Olson                         93.7

4.       Matt Chapman                  93.4

5.       Yandy Diaz                          93.4

6.       Corey Seager                     93.3

7.       M J Melendez                   93.2

8.       Rafael Devers                    93.0

9.       Julio Rodriguez                  92.7

10.   Juan Soto                            92.7

That’s an impressive list of sluggers…at least it is if you don’t factor in their combined 1,241 strikeouts. In the real baseball world, though, you don’t get to dismiss strikeouts as irrelevant. So the list needs to be recalculated to account for all those 0.0 exit velocities the stat chooses to ignore.

Do that and a funny thing happens. Only three players among the top 10 in exit velocity still rank among the top 10 in True Exit Velocity. Most of the rest fall way down, in Chapman’s case from fourth place to 110th.

From 10th to first and factoring in the frequency of their no-contact at bats, here are the majors’ top 10 players from the 2023 season for producing True Exit Velocity.

MLB's Best True Exit Velocity Sluggers, 2023

10. Kyle Tucker, Astros. MLB credits Tucker with only a 90.2 mph exit velocity, ranking just 50th overall. But that fails to consider Tucker’s unusually high 84 percent contact rate; he fanned fewer than 100 times. Factor that in, and Tucker’s True Exit Velocity stands at 75.77 mph.

9. Jeff McNeil, Mets. By most measures, it was not a good year for McNeil. The 2022 National League batting champ hit only .276 and did not provide power. But McNeil provided constant contact, coming up empty in only 11.1 percent of his 585 at bats. That gave McNeil a True Exit Velocity of 75.83 mph.

8. Corey Seager, Rangers. Seager is one of the three leaders in exit velocity who also made the top 10 in True Exit Velocity. With just an 18.4 percent strikeout rate, his 93.3 mph exit velocity only dropped to 76.13 mph once his whiffs were factored into the equation.

7. Alex Bregman, Astros. At an average of 88.6 mph, Bregman ranked no higher than 86th in exit velocity, barely above the MLB average of 88.5. But that placing doesn’t do justice to the fact that Bregman put the ball in play 86 percent of his at bats. Factor that into the calculus, and Bregman rises solidly into the top 10 in True Exit Velocity at 76.2 mph.

6. Yandy Diaz, Rays. Diaz is the second player to qualify among the top 10 in both exit velocity and True Exit Velocity. He coupled his 93.4 mph exit velocity, fifth overall, with an 82.1 percent contact rate, giving him a 76.8 True Exit Velocity mark.

 5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays. Like McNeil, Guerrero’s 2023 season was largely seen as a personal failure. He batted just .264. But Guerrero struck out only 100 times in 602 at bats, and that combined with his 92.1 mph exit velocity when he did make contact gave him a True Exit Velocity of 76.81 mph.

4. Keibert Ruiz, Nationals. For a young player, Ruiz showed exemplary plate discipline, fanning only 58 times in 523 official at bats. That’s an 88.9 percent contact rate. MLB credits Ruiz with only an 87.4 mph exit velocity, subpar by official standards. But Ruiz puts the ball in play with such regularity that his True Exit Velocity drops only to 77.70 mph, better than all but three players.

3.  Jose Ramirez, Guardians. At 90.0 mph, Ramirez ranks only 54th in the official exit velocity stats. But he puts the ball in play a lofty 88.1 percent of the time, striking out just 73 times last season. That puts his True Exit Velocity at 79.29 mph.

2. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves. Acuna is No. 1 by MLB standards in exit velocity at an average speed of 94.7 mph. That beats out Shohei Ohtani by an average of three-tenths of a mile per hour. But unlike Ohtani, Acuna is also difficult to fan, striking out just 13.1 percent of his at bats. So while he does forfeit the top spot in True Exit Velocity, at 82.29 mph he drops only one slot.

1. Luis Arraez, Marlins. Arraez is the perfect illustration of the meaningful difference between Exit Velocity and True Exit Velocity. Excluding strikeouts, Arraez’s 88 mph exit velocity is ordinary, ranking 102nd. But that ignores the reality that Arraez struck out less than six percent of the time, and his constant contact led to a league-best .344 batting average. That put Arraez’s True Exit Velocity at an MLB-best 82.81 mph.

What about some of the names you don’t see? Start with the obvious: AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. He ranks second to Acuña in exit velocity at 94.4 mph. But Ohtani had a prodigious 143 no-contact at bats, dragging his True Exit Velocity down to 67.21 mph, and ranking well outside the top 10.

Matt Olson ranked third in exit velocity, but like Ohtani and Chapman fell victim to his strikeout rate. Failing to put the ball in play during 27.5 percent of his at bats, Olson’s True Exit Velocity dropped from 93.7 to 67.3 mph.

Mookie Betts, 11th in MLB exit velocity at 92.4 mph, nearly made the top 10 in True Exit Velocity. Unfortunately, his 107 whiffs, accounting for 18.3 percent of his at bats, left him in 12th place in True Exit Velocity at 75.49 mph. In addition to the top 10, he also lagged behind Boston’s Masataka Yoshida.

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