The Braves enter Thursday with a 98.7% chance to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. They have a 6 1/2-game lead over the first team out in the Wild Card race, holding the top spot.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing to get to this point for Atlanta. Exactly two months ago, the outlook was quite different.
Entering May 28, the Braves were 22-24, three games behind in the Wild Card race. Their .478 win percentage ranked 15th in the Majors.
That’s when Michael Harris II debuted for the club. Harris was the Braves’ No. 1 prospect and MLB’s No. 59 overall prospect at the time, according to MLB Pipeline. The Braves lost that day, but Harris’ impact began early – he got his first career hit in that game. There was much more to come.
Less than a week later, on June 1, the Braves won the first of what would be 14 in a row. Since Harris’ debut, the club is 37-17, a .685 win percentage that is best in MLB in that span.
He’s a fun player to watch, and his emergence has coincided with Dansby Swanson rebounding from a slower start, plus the always-reliable contributions of Austin Riley and Matt Olson. And this team also has Ronald Acuña Jr. It’s a talented group, and his impact has been notable.
Here’s how the arrival of 21-year-old "Money Mike" (per his Twitter account) has sparked the Braves.
Production at the plate
The Braves are hitting .261 since Harris’ arrival, fifth in MLB, with a .794 OPS that ranks third. Their 5.2 runs per game in that span are third-most. Prior to May 28, they were 23rd and 14th, respectively, in average and OPS, and tied for 18th in runs per game. But if we zero in on the outfield, the impact is clearer.
Through May 27, Braves outfielders had a 66 wRC+ this season, where 100 is league average. That was the worst of any team’s outfielders at the plate. Since, they’re at a 107 wRC+, tied for ninth among outfields.
Plus defense and speed
There’s no question that the most eye-catching thing Harris does is play his position in center field. His visually spectacular play is quantifiable, too. He’s in the 94th percentile in Outs Above Average, and the 93rd percentile in Outfielder Jump – which is feet covered in the correct direction in the first three seconds of a play.
To that point, at 29.0 ft/sec, he’s the fastest Braves player by sprint speed this season. That mark is 2 ft/sec better than the MLB average of 27 ft/sec, and not far from the elite threshold of 30 ft/sec.
His speed makes an impact both on the basepaths and in the field. And the club needed the defensive turnaround in the outfield.
Here are the Braves’ outfield OAA marks and MLB ranks by month this season:
April: -6, 28th
May: -4, T-27th
June: +3, T-8th
July: 0, T-17th
In other words, a bottom-tier defensive outfield has been upgraded to at or above league average. In June alone, Harris had four OAA, tied for second-most among outfielders in the month. He has seven total tied for most among NL outfielders with Daulton Varsho.
A young, dynamic outfielder in a Braves uniform? It’s hard not to think of two others in recent memory, namely Acuña and Andruw Jones, who made their marks on the club from a young age while patrolling the outfield grass. Acuña won 2018 NL Rookie of the Year as a 20-year-old, and Jones won the first of 10 career Gold Gloves in 1998, his second full season.
Harris came in second in the NL in our latest Rookie of the Year poll, and he and teammate Spencer Strider seem to have separated themselves as the top two candidates.
What about Gold Glove potential? Harris will be 21 years and 212 days old on the last day of the season. If he were to win a Gold Glove, he’d be the third-youngest outfielder to do so, older than only 1990 Ken Griffey Jr (20 years, 316 days) and 1998 Jones (21 years, 158 days), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That’s right, he’d be just a bit older than Jones was when he won his aforementioned first.
The awards will all play out, but in the meantime, Harris will continue to help the Braves with his bat, defense and speed, as the team pushes toward and into October.