Emerson Hancock is a 2020 draft-eligible RHP prospect out of the University of Georgia. Hancock is generating potential 1.1 buzz for this summer’s draft, and when you watch the kid pitch it is easy to understand why. Hancock is a 20-year-old, 6’4″, 215 lbs right-hander out of Cairo, Georgia. He was previously drafted in the 38th round out of high school by the Diamondbacks in the 2017 draft. Hancock has made 2 starts thus far in 2020; a tough 4-inning debut against Richmond where he gave up 6 earned runs, and a lights out 7-inning start against Santa Clara where allowed zero runs, two baserunners, and struck out eight.
It’s not crazy to say that Hancock would have been the first pitcher selected in the 2019 draft had he been eligible. He has a starter’s frame and arsenal to match. His fastball is a 2-seamer that sits 96-97 and can touch 98. He also throws a slider, changeup, and slow curve, and each of these secondaries flashes at least 50. And he’s not afraid to throw any of his secondaries. Here was his overall pitch usage during the 2019 campaign:
I watched Hancock’s start of May 25, 2019 in the semifinals of the SEC tournament against Ole Miss. The Ole Miss lineup featured several draft picks, including Grae Kessinger (2nd round – HOU), Thomas Dillard (5th round – COL), and Cooper Johnson (6th round – DET). I charted each pitch for:
The announcers made note of the fact that Hancock was calling his own game along with his catcher Mason Meadows. As you know, having the battery call their own game is very rare in college baseball. I’d say it’s even more rare to let a Sophomore pitcher do it during the conference tournament.
Here was Hancock’s pitch usage during the game:
Compared to his overall usage during the season, Hancock relied more heavily on his slider during this start. Which is fine, the slider is a nice pitch that flashes plus at times. But his fastball is extremely tough to hit. There were situations in the game where I was thinking he should go back to the fastball.
Hancock struggled getting his first pitches over for strikes. Getting your first pitch over for a strike is vitally important for a pitcher. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a great piece from Samford PhD. Darin W. White. As Dr. White notes, when an at bat starts off with a strike, there’s a 92.7% chance that the at bat results in an out. Here’s Hancock’s first pitch results from the game:
As you can see, he struggled far more with throwing strikes in the first pitch of an at bat (47%) as opposed to his overall performance in the outing (67% strikes).
Another interesting thing to note regarding Hancock’s first pitches is that he had no problem throwing any pitch in his arsenal in the first pitch of the at bat. Here are his first pitches thrown by pitch type:
Command and Movement
Two things I’m trying to record while reviewing these outings is a pitchers overall command and movement on his pitches. We often talk about a pitcher’s ‘command’ and its importance in determining whether he can survive as a starting pitcher at the MLB level. Movement on pitches is also critical to avoid being too ‘hittable’. However, these concepts lack measurable data at the minor league and amateur level, especially compared with the more precise data available on a site like Baseball Savant.
As a starting point for our pitch charting, I’m viewing command is a ‘yes/no’ proposition. To determine command, we take the starting location of the catchers glove and then compare where the pitch is thrown relative to that starting position. Anything more than the width of the plate away from the starting location of the catcher’s glove is a ‘bad’ command pitch. Similarly, if the catcher sets up inside/outside and the pitch winds up in the opposite location, or a catcher sets up high/low and the pitch winds up opposite, then the pitch will be recorded as a ‘bad’ command pitch.
For movement, we will also chart the pitch as a ‘yes/no’ proposition. A ‘yes’ movement pitch is a plus pitch. The movement should match the desired movement pattern for the pitch type, and it’s break should be notable. Plus movement is a little bit like pornography. You know it when you see it.
Here are Hancock’s Command and Movement numbers from this outing:
Swinging Strikes and Whiffs
One thing I realized when analyzing MLB starting pitchers for my fantasy draft last season was that there is a bit of a disconnect in the community when it comes to analyzing ‘strikeout stuff’. People refer to ‘swinging strike rate’ (SwStr% on FanGraphs) and ‘whiff rate’ (Whiff % on Baseball Savant) interchangeably, but they are calculated completely differently. SwStr% looks at swinging strikes as a percentage of all pitches thrown, while Whiff % looks at swinging strikes as a percentage of all swings attempted by the batter. For my money, I prefer Whiff %, but I’ll show you both here:
Hancock’s fastball is an excellent pitch. It’s a 2-seam fastball, but he throws it hard, sitting 96-97 and touching 98 in this outing. It spins well and has late life and ‘jump’. And he commands the fastball well, throwing it for strikes. It sure looked like a potential future 70 grade offering to me. Here’s the full data I recorded on his fastball during the start:
The average velocity for his fastball during the start sat at 96.0 mph. That’s a 70-grade fastball velocity using our Prospects Live benchmarks, but of course this is a 2-seamer he’s throwing that hard. His strike percentage (77% vs. 67%), swinging strike percentage (23% vs. 16%), bad command rate (20% vs. 27%), good movement rate (13% vs. 12%) and whiff rate (33% vs. 31%) on his fastball were better than those same rates for his arsenal as a whole. It’s a pitch he throws hard, throws for strikes, gets swinging strikes on, has good command of, and gets good movement on. It’s a great building block for his overall profile.
Another thing I looked at in this start is how Hancock dealt with runners on the bases. We often talk about pitchers struggling when they have to deal with traffic. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got guys like Tom Glavine who made a hall of fame career by being harder to hit when he had runners on base. So, I decided to look at Hancock’s results when he had runners on base during this outing:
|K Look||3||10%||K Look||10||15%|
|K FO||6||20%||K FO||10||15%|
|Bad Command||6||20%||Bad Command||18||27%|
|Good Movement||3||10%||Good Movement||8||12%|
|BIP Soft||3||60%||BIP Soft||8||57%|
|BIP Medium||2||40%||BIP Medium||3||21%|
|BIP Hard||0||0%||BIP Hard||3||21%|
|BIP GB||3||60%||BIP GB||10||71%|
|BIP LD||1||20%||BIP LD||3||21%|
|BIP FB||1||20%||BIP FB||1||7%|
Hancock threw 45% of his pitches during this start with runners on base. As you can see by these results, he wasn’t any worse with runners on vs. off in this particular start. Another great trait for a starting pitcher.
Ok, enough with the data, let’s see some cool GIFS!
In the first inning, Hancock allowed a hard hit double down the line. He came back an attacked the next hitter, tying him up with this 97 mph heat upstairs:
Here he is bending a nasty slider to get a swinging strikeout in the 2nd inning:
Here’s a first pitch strike that makes this poor Ole Miss hitter just look foolish:
Here’s another 2-seamer coming in at 97 with some unfair movement:
Here is Hancock breaking off a first pitch curveball for a strike:
And here’s a real nicely located 81 mph slider for a called strike while behind in the count:
There would really be no surprise if Hancock went 1.1 in this summer’s draft. His fastball is a potential 70-grade pitch and serves as a great building block for his overall repertoire, which also includes 3 off-speed options that he can throw for strikes. It’s going to be fun watching him take on the SEC this spring. I think I can speak for everyone (and Detroit Tigers fans in particular) when I say I pray for good health for Hancock this season.