Dynasty BaseballTriple Play

TDG’S Triple Play: Atlanta Braves!

The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!

This week Drew Klein (@aok_fan), Greg Hoogkamp (@GregHoogkamp), and Colin Coulahan (@cjc07) handle writing duties, so follow them on Twitter and post any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.

Hitter Michael Harris II, Age: 22, Position: OF

Analysis by: Drew Klein

“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – Winston Churchill

At the time, Churchill was speaking of Russia, but if he were alive today, he’d be saying this about Michael Harris II. Last year Harris took the baseball world by storm and sent fantasy managers rushing to the waiver wire and blowing their FAAB budgets to get in on the action. He was called up directly from Double-A before it was cool and proceeded to hit major league pitching like he’d been doing it all his life. For most of us, it was a surprise, for in 2021 he played in High-A where he posted a .294/.362/.436 slash line with only seven home runs. He was promoted to Double-A for 2022 when he tapped into his power, with a .305/372/.506 slash line with five home runs in 196 plate appearances. Before anyone could ask “but is a .364 BABIP sustainable?” he was called up to Atlanta where he stayed hot. And, judging by the .361 BABIP in the majors, he also stayed a little lucky. And as we’ve seen this year, since he hasn’t performed as well as last year, he probably was lucky in 2021. Except, in many ways, he’s had a better year this year, and maybe we should wait a beat before jumping off the bandwagon.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” often attributed to Mark Twain but was likely originally coined by Sir Charles Dilke in 1891.

So as I tried to determine whether Harris was a flash in the pan or a long-term fantasy asset, I spent some time breaking down his statistics.

  • In 2022, he posted a .297/.339/.514 slash line, and so far in 2023, he’s hit .287/.336/.454, so clearly 2022 was a better year.
  • In 2023, he’s lowered his K% from 24.3 to 18.7, and raised his BB% from 4.8 to 6.3, so we can see that 2023 is a better year.

His 2022 batting average of .297 was bolstered by a very high and questionably sustainable BABIP of .361.  His BABIP in 2023 is a more realistic .331, and that 30-point drop in BABIP has only lowered his batting average by 10 points to .287.  So, maybe 2022 was statistically a better year but it was also a luckier year, as mentioned above. None of these conflicting sets of statistics address the reduced number of home runs, so I took a look at the power metrics. The results there are equally as confusing.

His average exit velocity is actually higher this year, up to 90.5 from 89.5. His launch angle is up to 6.9 from 4.5.  His barrel percentage has dropped, from 10.1% to 8.5%, but his hard hit rate is a bit higher, from 45.1% to 45.6%.  The question is, with all other metrics being pretty close to equal, does a 1.6% drop in barrel percentage lower the HR/FB rate from 22.9 to 13.1?  I find that hard to believe, and frankly, I have trouble finding any significant differences in other hitting metrics.  In fact, he’s hitting fewer balls up the middle, and fences are shorter in left and right than in center field, so that doesn’t make sense either.

“What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”  (Oft used saying that may be a reference to Samuel W. Hill (1819–1889), a Michigan surveyor who swore so much that people would just say “Sam Hill” instead of cursing.  There are other possible theories of the origin of the phrase, but this one’s my favorite. And it has nothing to do with Sam Hill who hit .296 for the Chicago American Giants (Negro League) from 1946 – 1948.)

The fact of the matter is that Harris had a terrible April and May, and if he was playing on just about any other team than the powerhouse Braves, he would have been sent down to the minors to work it out. He had a magnificent June, a solid July, and is having a very good August. He’s become more disciplined at the plate and has increased his overall contact rate from 73.5% to 77.3%.  And don’t forget, he’s only 22 years old.

If, like me, you drafted him in the second round of a draft and hold, you’d just as soon never see his name again, but be patient. The combination of increased contact, better discipline, and increasing hard-hit rates are telling me that we haven’t come close to seeing his best year yet.  If you have him on a dynasty roster, hold him, or at least do not sell low.  If you have the chance to buy low from a manager who has lost faith, then make that deal. (Special bonus content:  He’s also going to get you 20+ steals a year for the next few years.)

Bryce Elder, Age: 24, Position: RHP

Analysis by: Colin Coulahan

Looking Back

Before I start with the criticisms, Bryce Elder has had a strong year overall.  In a year when we’ve seen some of the most talented pitchers in the game succumb to injury or be ineffective, the 24-year-old rookie has been putting up strong ratios this season.  His 3.46 ERA is inside the top-20 of qualified pitchers, and his 1.22 WHIP is inside the top 30.  But despite the success, some red flags indicate he cannot keep this performance up.  The lack of strikeouts and high ERA estimators point to hard regression coming.

Where are the whiffs?

Strikeouts are key in fantasy.  The more a pitcher can get swings and misses, the better off they will be.  So far this season, Elder only has a 17% K%, 5% under league average (22%).  Thankfully Elder has been able to maintain a high ground ball rate and limit hard contact, but how long can he control that?  From April until the end of June, Elder was having success with a 2.44 ERA and a solid 20% K%.  Since the start of July, the floor has fallen out from under Elder; he’s been stuck with an ERA close to 6.00, and the K% has plummeted to 11%.

What happened?  In short, Elder just doesn’t have great stuff.  If you look up his Stuff+ numbers on the Fangraphs leaderboards, none of his pitches are graded 100, which is league average. For the uninitiated, Stuff+ grades pitches based on velocity, spin, movement, spin rate, and a few more characteristics.  

Having pitches that generate a lot of swing and miss is important because it gives you a wider margin for error.  A pitcher NEEDS to hit their spots if they don’t have anything that racks up whiffs, and that’s been the other thing killing Elder in the second half.  His walk rate went from 7% to almost 10%.  Combined with no strikeouts, it’s just a recipe for trouble.

Elder Statesman

We’ve seen the highs and lows of Elder. I don’t think he’s a 6.00 ERA pitcher, but he played way above his head in the first half of the season.  His ERA estimators peg him as someone with a mid-4.00 ERA, and I think that’s accurate, especially with the lack of swing and miss.  Right now, I think he’s someone you must pick and choose who he pitches against because he can still play good games.  Just recently, on August 16th, he pitched seven shutout innings against the Yankees with three strikeouts.  He may not be more than a back-of-the-rotation arm, but those profiles have some value in deeper leagues.

Jhancarlos Lara, Age: 20, Position: Pitcher, Level: Single-A

Analysis by: Greg Hoogkamp

“Abriendo Caminos” (“Opening Roads”)

The Braves signed Jhancarlos Lara as a 19-year-old free agent last summer out of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. He’s a lean, lanky (6 ‘3, 190 lbs.) right handed pitcher with some more projection in his frame, a big reason why the Braves signed him. 

“La Travesia” (“The Journey”)

He began his pro career last season in the DSL with a 30.1 inning cameo. He showed huge strikeout upside, fanning 27.7% of the batters he faced while also inducing ground balls at a high clip (50.2 GB%) leading to a 1.78 ERA. On the flip side, Lara walked 19.0% of the batters he faced and was the beneficiary of some batted ball luck (80.4 LOB%, 0.0 HR/FB%) which resulted in a more realistic 4.32 xFIP. This season, the Braves showed confidence in him by having him skip the Complex and go straight to Low-A. He has not disappointed showing growth as the season has progressed. He has improved both his K% (30.3%) and BB% (13.2%) which has improved his K%-BB% from 8.8% last season to 17.1% this season. 

“Todo Tiene Su Hora” (“Everything has its time”)

Lara throws a mid 90’s fastball that can touch the upper 90’s at times. He also throws a slider which has the potential to be a plus pitch. These two pitches in concert rack up the K’s. He has slowly increased his workload over the course of the season and in each of his last two starts he has navigated through 5 or more innings (6 IP on 08/09 and 5 IP on 08/16). In those two starts he has a 35.1 K%-BB% holding opponents to a .212 batting average. For the season, he has also held opponents to an impressive .222 average.

“Vale La Pena” (“It’s worth it”)

Young pitchers with live, upper 90’s arms are becoming more common as we move forward and more often than not, these pitchers have control issues. The select few that end up succeeding, make adjustments at every level, working on their mechanics and learning to throw their best pitches more often while eliminating their weaker offerings. We have already seen Lara drop his walk rate in a significant way after one season. This is a deep league target (500 plus prospects), but someone to watch as he could rise quickly if he continues to grow and mature. 


The Author

Phil Barrington

Phil Barrington

Fantasy player since 1999, specializing in OPS leagues. Accountant by day, fantasy writer by night. Spreadsheets are life.

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