Atlanta Braves: Why is Michael Harris struggling so much in 2023?

Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris II is mired in a deep slump.
Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris II is mired in a deep slump. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Atlanta Braves centerfielder and NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II is mired in an inexplicable sophomore slump that’s created a huge hole in the lineup.

It was only 51 weeks ago that the Braves promoted Harris from Mississippi after only 43 AA games. The club expected him to solidify centerfield defense, and he did.

They didn’t expect him to bat .297/.339/.514/.853 post a .368 wOBA, 136 wRC+, or 4.8 fWAR, and walk away with NL Rookie of the Year honors. Those numbers convinced Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos to extend Harris for eight years and $72M.

Harris started this season in a 5 – 23 slump, and the Braves placed him on the IL with a lower back strain after seven games. He returned after three weeks but continues to struggle at the plate. In his last 19 games, Harris is 9 – 63 (.143/.229/.238/.467) with one homer. The last Brave with a similar start career was Jeff Francoeur, who was batting .210/.222/.352/.575 26 games into 2006.+

Zone Recognition and Timing

The Braves had to expect some regression from Harris, whose .361 BAbip was fourth among batters with 400PA behind Paul Goldschmidt, Nathaniel Lowe, and Xander Bogaerts, two points higher than Freddie Freeman, and eight points higher than last year’s NL batting champ, Jeff McNeil.

Baseball Savant puts Harris’ 2022 chase rate at 39% with a 52.5% contact rate. Some speculated before the season that pitchers would try to exploit that tendency. Perhaps they have, but so far, he’s chasing a lower percentage (34.1%) and making more contact (61.0%). So chasing out of the zone alone isn’t the problem, but handling pitches in the zone is an issue.