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Is Michael Harris II experiencing a sophomore slump?

Michael Harris is struggling at the plate. What is causing this drop-off?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves
Can Harris come back to ROY form?
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves are having some bullpen woes, and there is no doubt about it. But, one player that has not been talked about much is reigning Rookie Of the Year, Michael Harris II.

The Braves do still hold a strong lead in their division thanks to the other teams struggling early, so fortunately they have had some room to where their recent struggles has not put them in a huge hole.

If the Braves do want to turn things around, they will need some players to step up, and that includes fan favorite, Money Mike.

To be fair, Harris is coming off of an injury and has only played in nineteen games at the time of this writing. However, he currently sits at a 0.0 fWAR which is alarming considering his high defensive floor in WAR calculation. It is safe to say that without even looking at his slash line that his bat is struggling.

Last year, Harris had an excellent slash line of .297/.339/.514 which equated to a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 136 (36.0 percent better than league average). This season he has a slash line of .217/.319/.317 which equates to a wRC+ of 79 (21.0 percent below average). This is a massive drop-off of 57.0 percent in terms of wRC+.

The biggest drop off has been against right handed pitchers. Harris is actually doing better against lefties this year than last (albeit still below average). He has a 90 wRC+ this year against them when he had an 80 last season. That being said, it is clear that strength against righties has dwindled quite a bit.

Last season he had an exceptional wRC+ of 161 against righties with a slash line of .323/.363/.580. This season his performance against righties has taken a nosedive. He is hitting .211/.333/.263 and a 73 wRC+. That is a drop-off of 88.0 percent in terms of wRC+.

This is discouraging for two reasons. First, you always want to see players continue to do well. Second the Braves’ lineup is set up very well to crush lefties, but struggle at times against righties. Harris was a big part last season in ensuring that the lineup would be potent against righties as well.

Some regression was imminent

To give Harris some credit, he had high odds to regress some this season due to his high BABIP of .361 in 2022 and his wOBA of .368 (which was top 7.0 percent in MLB) was much higher than his xwOBA of .335.

Of course, most of us probably did not expect a drop-off this severe.

So, should we be worried?

From a very high level, we can look and see that his xwOBA .337 is actually higher this season than his .335 last year (at the time of this writing). His current wOBA is .292, so this points to some progression coming this season. His BABIP is also sitting at .267 where the league average BABIP is currently .296. Based on these two metrics alone, there is hope that his on field output will increase.

His walk rate and strikeout rate is also promising. His strikeout rate of 18.2 percent is 6.1 percent lower than last season. His walk rate of 10.4 percent is 5.6 percent higher than the 4.8 percent he produced in 2022.

We talked about Harris’ drop-off against righties already, but more specifically, he is struggling against the fastball. You can see in the graphic below that his production in terms of xwOBA has taken a massive hit.

MHII xwOBA against righties

He had an xwOBA of .428 on the pitch in 2022, but he has dropped all the way down to .286.

Last season his xBA and xSLG on fastballs was .331 and .630 respectively. This season they have dropped to .151 and .286.

Of course, Harris has been injured and small sample sizes can be deceiving, but the fastball seems to be a problem for him this year.

Specifically, the 4-Seamer has seen the biggest drop-off. His xBA and xSLG have dropped from .310 and .571 to .129 and .136. Essentially, his power has disappeared.

Against righties, his swing and miss percentage on fastballs has jumped from 22.7 percent to 39.1, and on off speed pitches it has jumped from 25.2 to 42.9 percent.

When you see a swing and miss percentage jump, typically it is because a player is chasing pitches. However, with Harris, his chase and miss rate on fastballs thrown by righties has actually dropped from 37.0 to a much more palatable 15.4.

Like Austin Riley, he is struggling with swinging and missing at fastballs inside the zone. In 2022 his swing and miss percentage inside the zone was 17.5 percent. This year, it is an insanely high 48.5 percent. It is no wonder he is struggling.

Swing and miss percentage inside the zone

He is also struggling to make quality contact when he actually makes contact with fastballs against righties. He has a barrel percentage of 0.0 percent. This has resulted in many things that have already been listed, but it has also resulted in his launch angle dropping from eleven degrees, to negative one, and his average exit velocity has dropped from 91.9 MPH to 83.8.

On a positive note, Harris is doing an exceptional job of hitting the slider and a decent job hitting the curve. He currently has an xBA .452 and xSLG of .945 on a slider and .236 and .413 on the curve respectively.

In Summary

It has been a small sample size so far, so things can change. But, Harris’ greatest strength in 2022 has turned into a weakness. He went from being well above average against RHP to struggling mightily against them.

When a player swings at a fastball inside the strike zone and misses nearly half the time, it is going to be difficult to be successful.

Like stated earlier, his xwOBA and BABIP do show that over a larger sample size, Harris should see his numbers improve. Here is to hoping that is the case.

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