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Does Michael Harris’ projections make sense?

Harris’ projections show him cooling off in his sophomore campaign. Do they hold weight?

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves
Michael Harris II is so good that even with regression projected, he would still be a star.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Harris II is already establishing himself as a star, and a fan favorite for the Atlanta Braves.

In 2022, we all know he won Rookie of the Year, edging out teammate Spencer Strider. It was a battle that was extremely entertaining, and encouraging for the immediate and longer term future.

Harris ended his rookie campaign with an impressive 4.8 fWAR over only 114 games. For reference, if you extrapolate that out to 150 games he was on pace for 6.3 fWAR, and extrapolated out to 162 games, he would have been on pace for 6.8 fWAR. A 6.8 would have tied him with Freddie Freeman, and a 6.3 would have tied him with Trea Turner.

In other words, Harris had himself a season. Even though Harris had an amazing season, his projections for 2023 say he will regress some. In fact, ZiPS gives him the highest fWAR projections of the bunch at yet another 4.8 fWAR season, but in 152 games. That would still be a well above average season, but not at the same level of production as 2022.

There is a reason the term “sophomore slump” exists. A lot of players deal with it. But, do the underlying metrics from last season point to this happening, or are the projections just simply making assumptions? Let’s examine.

Harris had some excellent XSTATS with his bat:

· wOBA – Top seven percent in MLB

· xwOBA – Top twenty-nine percent

· Hard Hit Percentage – Top twenty-four percent

· Expected Batting Average – Top eighteen percent

· Expected Slugging – Top seventeen percent

· Barrel Percentage – Top thirty-one percent

But, he also had some bad ones:

· Strikeout Rate – Bottom twenty-nine percent

· Walk Rate – Bottom eleven percent

· Whiff Rate (swing and miss) – Bottom twenty-six percent

· Chase Rate – Bottom seven percent.

We can see right of the bat (no pun intended) that there is a gap between his actual wOBA and his xwOBA. Top seven percent in wOBA, but top twenty-nine percent in xwOBA. While top tenty-nine is impressive in its own right, it does show that over an extended period of time, the odds are that regression will happen. His wOBA on the year was .368, but his xwOBA was .335.

The same can be seen in quite a few other areas as well. Harris’ actual batting average was .297, but his xBA was .268, and his slugging percentage was .514 with his xSLG being .460.

Fortunately, his season as a whole does not appear to be one of the cases where a player comes in hot and then as the season goes on they regress slowly as pitchers figure them out. However, there is some indicators that pitchers did catch on at least to some degree.

xwOBA by month
xSLG by month

He saw more pitches in September than any other month. In September, he saw 466 pitches, when in any other month he never saw more than 400 (August). From August to September we see a drop in xwOBA from .424 to .360. In xSLG we see a drop from .523 to .432. Both of these XSTATS are the second lowest in any month other than his first month in May when he only saw 46 pitches.

Now, this is not to say we have anything to worry about with Michael Harris II. Even though his XSTATs took a dive from August to September, his September numbers were still good. His xwOBA of .360 is still well above the 2022 league average of .309, and his xSLG in September of .432 is higher than the league average of .388.

One area to keep an eye one is his performance against the breaking ball. Like most of the Atlanta Braves, he crushes a 4-seamer. In fact his run value added of twelve on the 4-seamer tied him for 26th in MLB, and the only Atlanta Brave who had a higher value was Matt Olson with 13.

But, if we look at breaking pitches, he steadily got worse starting in July. In July he had a very good xwOBA of .344 on breaking pitches (league average in 2022 was .269), then a .307 in July, then a below league average .261 in September. To be fair, his xwOBA was down in September on all pitch types, but breaking pitches was a steady decline since July, and was the only pitch type below league average in terms of xwOBA. His overall run value on breaking pitches is not anywhere near his 4-seamer. None of the breaking pitches types did he have a run value higher than two.

xwOBA by month vs pitch types

None of this is to say anything negative about Harris. It is just to point out that the projections of him coming back to earth a bit do hold some merit. Even if Harris hits all season in 2023 like he did in September, he would still bring tremendous value to the team offensively, and that does not even include the elite defense he brings in center field.

Top eight percent in Outs Above Average, top sixteen percent outfielder jump, and top five percent arm strength combined with Harris’ offensive floor, and that is a player to be excited about for years to come.

Here’s to hoping that if Harris is to have a “sophomore slump” that it is just regressing to what his XSTATS showed from last year, because those numbers are still very good.

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