Even in his first career win, there were signs of trouble for the Mariners young pitcher

Emerson Hancock earned the first win of his young career and showed improved velocity. However, he also allowed an abundance of hard contact and struggled to strike batters out.
Seattle Mariners Photo Day
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Emerson Hancock made his fourth MLB start against the Cleveland Guardians on April 1. He went 5.1 innings, gave up three earned runs, issued one walk, and punched out one batter on his way to his first career win.

This appears to be a strong performance, and SoDo Mojo's Andrew Bailie outlined why it provides evidence of him being a solid fill-in for the injured Bryan Woo. When diving deep into his performance though, there are some clear warning signs that Hancock may have been fortunate to escape with only three runs allowed.

Emerson Hancock's underlying metrics suggest his first start of 2024 was terrible

Hancock did not do a good job of missing bats, as evidenced by his singular punchout. While his whiff rate was better in this game than his average in his three MLB starts in 2023, he had an incredibly high 10.5 barrel % and 47.4 sweet spot %, per Baseball Savant. As a result, his xBA was a staggering .344 compared to an actual BA against of .211, and his xSLG .512 compared to an actual SLG of .368. If Hancock continues to give up this much hard contact, some ugly performances are sure to follow.

The Guardians posted a BABIP of just .167, despite crushing the baseball all night, showing how fortunate Hancock was to get the win. He needs to clean up his rate of hard contact, perhaps by decreasing his first pitch strike percentage from the 78.3 we saw on Monday. While it is generally positive to throw first-pitch strikes, pounding the zone too often can be very dangerous if hitters are ready to attack.

Another contributor to Hancock's inability to prevent hard contact in his first outing was the decrease in vertical movement on his changeup. While he struck out Steven Kwan on a great changeup, most of his changeups did not exhibit the same movement that they did in 2023. They moved well horizontally but had over five fewer inches of vertical drop compared to last season. That contributed to his changeup already having a value of -2 runs on Baseball Savant.

Hancock is a pitcher who has never shown at the pro level that he will consistently generate a large number of strikeouts. That is not inherently bad. That kind of pitcher can succeed when generating a high percentage of groundballs and forcing weak contact. In his first 2024 start, Hancock gave up hard contact left and right and had just a 26.3% groundball rate. Instead of hitting ground balls, batters turned 42.1% of batted balls into line drives.

These problems culminate into a 7.27 FIP and 8.11 xERA, per FanGraphs. Hancock already sports an ERA over 5 from his outing on Monday night, but that number would be even higher if not for some luck. Hancock was the logical choice to replace Woo, but his next couple of starts are now extremely important in determining if Hancock is truly ready to step into a replacement role if another Mariners pitcher gets hurt this season.