Braves' phenom Michael Harris II can't stop chasing at the plate and it's ruining him

Atlanta's talented center fielder has a chase problem and it's not the strikeouts that are hurting.
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Before the season began, it looked like Atlanta Braves CF Michael Harris II was poised to have a breakout, MVP-caliber season. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2022, Harris II had an incredible final four months of the season that indicated that an even better 2024 was on the horizon.

Unfortunately, the 23-year-old hasn't taken off the way some, including myself, have expected. Coming into Sunday's game, the lefty has slashed .258/.301/.380, which is good for a 93 wRC+. He's continued his usual stellar defense, which puts him at a solid 2.7 fWAR pace, but far from an MVP season.

So what's been the problem? He's still hitting the ball hard (72nd percentile average exit velocity), but his xwOBA and wOBA aren't far apart, which indicates he hasn't been getting unlucky.

Turns out, Michael Harris II is Michael Harris II's worst enemy. The CF can't stop chasing at pitches. Even worse, he can't stop making contact on those pitches.

Michael Harris II chase rate is a serious issue

Among major leaguers with at least 100 PAs, Money Mike has the third-highest chase rate in all of baseball. Only Harold Ramirez of the Tampa Bay Rays and Mauricio Dubón have chased more often than Harris, who has swung at balls outside the zone 48.5% of the time. He's chasing nearly 7% more than he did last season.

At the same time, he's making contact on pitches outside the zone 63.7% of the time. This is roughly in the middle of the pack regarding out-of-zone contact.

On pitches out of the zone, including strikeouts, Harris is batting .125 and slugging .143. His 55 ABs on pitches out of the zone are tied for 18th most in baseball. Meanwhile, on pitches inside the zone, Harris is batting .318 and slugging .495.

Obviously, hitters do worse on pitches out of the zone, but considering the volume that Harris II chases, it means that he's prematurely ending more and more ABs on pitches that aren't worth swinging at.

Making contact isn't the only problem. By chasing and whiffing, the Georgia native is putting himself in worse counts to hit. In MLB, the count is king. No matter who the hitter is, batters do better in more favorable counts. Michael Harris II is swinging himself out of those counts.

What can be done about Michael Harris II chase problem?

One extreme solution is to make Money Mike hit like the Dodgers made Miguel Vargas in Spring Training 2023. Vargas had a hairline pinky fracture but Los Angeles still wanted him to see in-game pitching. They told him not to swing, and it worked. He walked four times in 12 PAs before he was allowed to swing again.

Although he didn't hit well at the major league level in 2023, he still walked 16.1% of the time in the minors, up 2.4% from the previous year.

The Braves are highly unlikely to force Harris II to sit and watch pitches, but they could create a selective process, whether it's situational by inning, by leverage, or by count, where Harris is instructed not to swing regardless of count.

One player who has improved their chase rate significantly is Washington Nationals 2B Luis García Jr. At his worst, he was chasing 43.7% of the time. That year he had a 2.9% walk-rate and had a 93 wRC+. Coming into this season, the 2B's best wRC+ was 93 in 2022. His best walk rate was 5.6%.

But this year, he's cut his O-Swing down to 34.3% (although only a modest 0.4% decrease from last season) and he's increased his walks to 7.3%. This season he has a 120 wRC+ with a matching xwOBA/wOBA of .340.

Harris II hits the ball much harder than García. By increasing his walks and getting better pitches to hit, the CF could easily be an MVP candidate for the next decade.

However, if he doesn't address his skyrocketing chase rate, he could be the next Javy Baez instead. Harris is too good of a player to end up in that kind of situation so hopefully, he can turn things around soon.

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