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Checking back in with Michael Harris II

Michael Harris is still struggling, but is there hope for improvement?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Detroit Tigers
Michael Harris has had some bright spots
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On May 17th we took a look at Michael Harris and why he is struggling offensively for the Atlanta Braves. It has been about a month, and he has gotten a lot more playing time under his belt to add to his sample size, so now seems to be a good time to re-evaluate his performance and see if he is trending up or down.

When we looked at Harris last month, he had a slash line of .217/.319/.317, which equated to a wRC+ of 79 (21.0 percent below average). At the time of this writing, he has a slash line of .205/.278/.329, which is a wRC+ of 65.

How has Michael Harris performed since we last checked in?

From the time the article was written last month, he has seen a slash of .205/.259/.346. An increase in power, but a drop-off in batting average and on base percentage. So, it is safe to say that he has not made a big leap forward as of yet.

When we first checked in last month, we saw that he was struggling against RHP at a slash of .211/.333/.263 and a 73 wRC+. Since then, in 68 plate appearances he is hitting .190/.235/.317 (46 wRC+) against them. This is obviously not good news. To his credit though, his BABIP in this stretch has been a measly .233, showing that he has had some bad luck in that regard. .233 is even lower than the .267 it was sitting at back in mid May.

BABIP is only a piece of the pie, however, and his xwOBA as a whole does not paint a pretty picture. When we check in last month, his xwOBA was at .337. It has since dropped to .317, which is good for the bottom 38.0 percent of the league.

We saw last month that his walk rate and strikeout rate were promising. His walk rate was 10.4 percent, which was much higher than his 4.8 percent in 2022. Since then, his walk rate has dropped to 7.4 percent. For strikeout rate, it is the same story. Earlier in the season when we checked in on him, he has a very palatable 18.2 percent. Now, it has risen closer to his 2022 numbers at 23.5.

Again, a singular stat here and there does not tell the whole story, but if your strikeout rate is rising, your walk rate is dropping, and your power numbers are way down, that spells trouble.

One area that his improved quite a bit though is him swinging and missing at fastballs vs RHP in the strike zone. Last we checked he was swinging and missing at nearly half (48.5 percent) of fastballs inside the strike zone. His season total has now dropped down to 26.1 percent.

MHII Swing and Miss Percentages vs RHP in the zone

What has gone right?

His improvement on swinging and missing in the zone has led to his overall swing and miss percentage on fastballs dropping from 39.1 percent against righties down to 28.1 percent.

His xBA and xSLG were .129 and .136 respectively on 4-seamers in May when the article was written. Since then, they have jumped to .176 and .263. These numbers are still bad, but they are at least trending in the right direction.

His barrel percentage on fastballs against RHP has jumped from 0.0 percent to 8.8 percent, showing that he at least is making some quality contact as opposed to none at all.

We can also see in a very small sample size of his last fifty plate appearances that although his overall xwOBA is not good, it is trending in the right direction.

MHII xwOBA over his past 50 PAs

What continues to go right is his defense. He is stilling sitting at top 10.0 percent in outs above average, top 20.0 percent in outfielder jump, and top 11.0 percent in arm strength.

In Summary

In the last month, Harris has not taken a huge step forward. In fact, from an overall slash line, he has taken a step backwards. His walks are down, and his strikeouts are up.

His overall output against righties has not improved much either (although his BABIP has dropped even lower).

However, there have been a few bright spots. His swing against fastballs thrown by RHP has improved quite a bit. In terms of fixing what was arguably his biggest weakness this season, he no longer is swinging and missing at fastballs inside the strike zone at an astronomical rate. He is also hitting 4-seamers with much better quality of contact, which was also a weakness in his game.

This has resulted in his xwOBA the past few weeks trending in the right direction. Hopefully he can continue to trend up, and we can start seeing on field results.

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