Was Michael Harris II for Real?
The Atlanta Braves’ Michael Harris II was incredible last season. The NL Rookie of the Year finished the season with an impressive 4.8 fWAR in just 114 games and provided elite defense at a premium position. His bat was the most impressive part of the 21-year-old game, as he barely missed out on a 20-20 season and a .300 AVG. But, can you expect the same level of offense from Money Mike in 2023? The advanced metrics might say otherwise.
Was Michael Harris for Real in 2022?
Yes. Anytime a 21 year-old comes up from AA and plays at a 6-WAR pace over 441 PAs, they are for real. Harris’s contributions in center are a huge reason why the Braves were able to steal the NL East away from the Mets despite being 10.5 games back on June 1st.
However, a closer inspection of Harris’s expected stats reveals that Braves fans shouldn’t readily expect the CF to repeat a 136 wRC+ season again in 2023.
If you were to first look at Harris’s Baseball Savant profile, this might sound absurd at first. By every batted ball metric, the lefty is, at a minimum, in the 61st percentile. By xBA and xSLG, he was in the 80th percentile. These are not indications of a player who is vastly overperforming or getting incredibly lucky by BABIP.
Simply put, this is not an article trying to convince Braves fans that Michael Harris is going to fall off completely as a hitter next season and that his eight year extension is going to be a massive bust. If anything, I hope to reassure you by the end of the article that Harris will probably make that deal well worth it for both parties.
However, despite ranking in the 80th percentile in both xSLG and xBA, Harris actually greatly overperformed his every one of his expected stats by a fairly substantial margin. On the Braves, Harris was the third-biggest over-performer by both xBA and the second-biggest over-performer by xSLG.
If Harris hit exactly in line with his expected outcomes, his .787 xOPS (this is me doing the math, not an actual stat) would be a significant drop from his actual .853 OPS. A .787 OPS isn’t bad, especially coupled with great defense, but it would drop Harris from having the 22nd-best OPS in the league (among hitters with at least 300 PAs), to 62nd.
Hitters with a similar OPS, guys like Alejandro Kirk, Josh Bell, and Justin Turner all had a wRC+ in the 120s. All three walked much more than Harris and hit fewer homers, meaning fewer homers to elevate SLG and a higher OBP that isn’t factoring into SLG. These are not the best guys to compare Harris to. A player who’d probably be most similar to compare to Harris is another Braves starter.
Travis d’Arnaud had a .268/.319/.472 slash line, which came out to a 120 wRC+. Considering the two played for the same team and had similarly low BB%, it would stand to reason that this would be the range of Harris’ wRC+ had he OPSed at his expected range.
Again, this is very good. Among CF, a 120 wRC+ would have placed him in between Austin Slater and Chas McCormick at 9th in the majors. Slater and McCormick both had fewer PAs than the Braves CF, but each managed 2.0 fWAR, and neither offered the level of defense Harris did.
What to expect from Michael Harris II in 2023
Of course, this is going off of what Michael Harris II did in 2022, both in terms of actual outputs and expected stats. This doesn’t necessarily tell you what he will do in 2023.
Harris demonstrated a willingness to make changes from the moment that he first put on a big-league uniform. Keep in mind, this was Harris’ batting stance when he first was called up on May 28:https://sporty-clips.mlb.com/f70a3eb7-9c3a-4a21-a103-375d90d26c1f.mp4
And this was his batting stance just three days later on May 31:https://sporty-clips.mlb.com/b989d6aa-12f4-46bf-b90f-b479f389df2a.mp4
The 21-year-old’s willingness to adjust on the fly is likely why he never had a prolonged slump in the major leagues despite not having a single PA above AA coming into 2022. In fact, Harris hit better after the All-Star break than he did before, so his incredible season wasn’t carried by a hot start.
One of the biggest concerns about Money Mike going into next season was his lack of walks and tendency to chase. He finished the season in the 29th percentile in K%, 10th percentile in BB%, and seventh percentile in chase rate.
While at first glance this is troubling, it’s not something the youngster is ignoring. When asked what improvements he’d like to make in 2023 while being interviewed immediately after being awarded the NL Rookie of the Year Harris said, “Plate discipline… I would just try to work on that a little more next season.”
Of course, Harris wasn’t just waiting until the offseason to address this. He also worked on this during the season. In his first 48 games (from his debut until the All-Star break), the lefty swung at 44.5% of pitches off the plate. In the next 66 games, he cut it to 39.7%.
While this is still much higher than the league average of 32.6%, it would not be shocking if Harris manages to get it closer to the league average in 2023.
So, while Michael Harris outperformed expected metrics in 2022 by a lot, it is not enough to believe that he’ll suddenly morph into a bad outfielder. If anything, it simply would have taken him from a really, really good hitter to a really good hitter who might get nominated for Silver Slugger. After all, Kyle Schwarber won a Silver Slugger with a 128 wRC+.
If Harris’ 2023 actual stats fall more in line with his 2022 expected stats, you still have an All-Star-level player hitting 20% better than league average while providing elite-level defense at a premium position. While it isn’t quite the 136 wRC+ from this season, it’s not as if he lucked his way into being an above-average hitter.
Additionally, the slugger has consistently made adjustments in the majors. He’s not going to be the rookie who’s seeing big league pitching for the first time. If anything, expecting more of the same from Money Mike isn’t giving him enough credit.
Michael Harris II is very much for real and I’m very excited to see what he has in store for next season.