Michael Harris II Has an Ace up His Sleeve

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You’re going to hear a lot about the Braves over the next couple months. They’re the best team in baseball, and that’s how it goes. Some of you are Braves fans, so getting to see more of your favorite team in October will just be one more drop of good news in a season filled up to the brim with happy headlines. But for those of you who are indifferent or ambivalent toward the Braves, for those of you who loathe them in your very core, I have a little treat. That’s all this article is: a treat to bring a bit more fun to the wall-to-wall coverage awaiting us all.

On Tuesday night, Daniel Vogelbach homered to straightaway center field and Michael Harris II attempted to rob it. Harris tried very hard, and I went back and watched the replay to see exactly how close he came to making the play. However, after watching a few times, my attention shifted. I kept rewinding because I noticed that something was sticking out of Harris’ glove and flapping like the tongue of a golden retriever:

That’s the little positioning card that tells Harris where to stand for each batter. Those cheat sheets are a small part of the revolution in outfield positioning that has hammered BABIP league-wide over the last several years. Your local sports outlet probably wrote about the phenomenon when these cards started appearing back in 2018, but at this point they’re old hat (especially for the Yankees, who literally kept the cards in their hats).

Although the cards have been around for a while, this was the first time I’d ever noticed a player keeping one in their glove. I started checking the tape to find out whether this was a one-off, or whether Harris is a habitual glove stuffer. He definitely wasn’t doing this as a rookie in 2022, at least not often enough that I could spot an instance either on Baseball Savant or in a highlight reel, but it appears he’s been doing it since the very beginning of this season. The first time I spotted the card in his glove was in Atlanta’s second game of the season back on April 1. Here he is checking the card just a couple weeks ago:

As you can see, the glove is a very convenient place to keep a positioning card. Harris doesn’t have to go to his back pocket or remove his hat every time he wants to check it. The answers are literally in the palm of his hand. Still, I don’t know he does it. I tried walking around my apartment tossing a ball into my glove for a couple minutes. First, I slid a folded Post-it note between my palm and the leather. Then I tried a business card. Both of them drove me absolutely bananas. They moved, they got stuck, they rustled, and the corners caught on my palm. I cannot imagine doing something so irritating for half an inning, let alone a whole season’s worth of games. I would find it so stressful to have something flapping around inside my glove and constantly threatening to escape.

But here’s the thing: Harris seems to love having things flap around while he’s playing the outfield. That’s at least part of the reason he keeps the card in his glove in the first place. He can’t keep it in his pocket because both back pockets are already in use:

Michael Harris from the back.

The left pocket always holds his baserunning mitten. The right pocket is always turned inside out. He’s been playing that way since before he got called up to the majors. Why does Harris bring his baserunning mitten into the field even though he has yet to record a stolen base while playing defense? Why does his right pocket need to be turned inside out like he’s modeling for that Chance card in Monopoly where you have to pay a poor tax of $15? I don’t have an answer for you. I can’t say for certain that Harris enjoys the feeling of things flapping every which way while he chases down a ball in the gap, but that’s the best hypothesis I’ve got. If he doesn’t enjoy it, then he is in desperate need of a fanny pack.

However, that might not be the only reason Harris stashes the card in his glove. As it turns out, he’s not the only Brave who uses their leather as storage space:

That’s Ronald Acuña Jr. checking his card then stashing it in his own glove. Harris very literally learned from the best. Acuña started keeping the positioning card in his glove last year, and he has continued this season. I know I just told you that keeping a card in my glove for a couple minutes drove me crazy, but if I were a 22-year-old and Ronald Acuña Jr. told me to do it, I’d probably learn to live with the discomfort.

But we’re not really in it for the why. We’re in it the how. I watched a lot of clips of Acuña and Harris fielding this season. Acuña’s card seems to be sticking all the way out whenever the ball is hit his way. Harris’ is more fun because his card picks its spots. Depending on the kind of play he’s making, his positioning card variously peeks out, pokes out, and pops out of his glove, and I am here to tell you that it’s almost always adorable. Any time I watch the Braves play defense, I now keep an eye out for the card, which occasionally pops out to say hello, then scoots back to safety as quickly as possible. It’s like he’s trying to rob home runs with a cuckoo clock. This game within a game is my gift to you, the person who is stuck watching the Braves when you’d rather be watching any other team.

The card is easiest to spot when Harris is throwing the ball back into the infield. His glove shifts downward as he drops his right arm, and the card pops out for everyone to see as he raises his arm back up. It’s as if the card knows that the last batter just got out, and it can’t wait to tell Harris where to stand for the next one, like the world’s most informative prairie dog.

However, seeing the card after the play isn’t as fun as seeing it in action. Harris’ card has an uncanny tendency to pop halfway out of his glove when he’s making a highlight reel catch. It’s hard to blame it. If you were along for the ride when Harris was robbing a Shohei Ohtani home run, you might want your share of the limelight as well:

However, neither of those is my favorite time to catch a glimpse of the card. My favorite is when Harris is securing a plain old fly ball or popup. On those routine plays, the card tends to peek out from the heel of the glove ever so slightly, like a cautious turtle. When you’re watching in real time, it’s just a flash of white, so quick that it’s hard to be sure that you’re even seeing it at all:

I would love to tell you that Harris has radically improved his defense since he started keeping an ace up his sleeve, but that’s not the case. He was already a top 20 outfielder in the game, and the metrics have him positioned in roughly the same spot this year. This is just one more reason to keep an eye on him.





Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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cowdisciplemember
7 months ago

I was hoping it was that center fielder explosive gauntlet I heard about in the other article’s comments.