Can Voth still develop into reliable reliever for Nats?

PLAYER REVIEW: AUSTIN VOTH

Age on opening day 2022: 29

How acquired: Fifth-round pick, 2013 draft

MLB service time: 2 years, 127 days

2021 salary: $587,700

Contract status: Likely arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2026

2021 stats: 4-1, 5.34 ERA, 49 G, 1 GS, 0 CG, 57 1/3 IP, 57 H, 35 R, 34 ER, 10 HR, 28 BB, 59 SO, 1 HBP, 1.483 WHIP, 76 ERA+, 4.90 FIP, minus-0.1 fWAR, minus-0.4 bWAR

Quotable: “My nose is still straight. I’m still pretty good looking, I feel like.” - Austin Voth, after returning from a broken nose June 19

Thumbnail image for Voth-Follow-Through-White-Sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: Austin Voth entered spring training in a very familiar position: competing with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde for the final spot in the Nationals’ opening day rotation. He seemed to go into camp as the least likely of the three to win the job, and sure enough as the club headed north at the end of March he was ticketed for the bullpen, with Ross and Fedde both making the rotation as a result of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Voth would spend the entire season pitching in relief, with one exception: He started June 6 in Philadelphia when the Nats needed a one-time fill-in. And unfortunately, despite tossing two perfect innings he was forced to leave the game after a Vince Velasquez fastball struck him in the face while he was trying to bunt. Voth was taken to the hospital with a broken nose; thankfully, he didn’t suffer anything worse.

At the time, Voth was putting together a solid season and beginning to establish himself as a potential setup man for manager Davey Martinez. Through his first 25 appearances, Voth owned a 2.75 ERA and 1.083 WHIP, taking to the new role well.

But Voth’s season completely fell apart the rest of the way. Over his final 24 outings, his ERA was a ghastly 9.70, his WHIP just as troubling at 2.156. A stint on the COVID-19 injured list from late July through mid-August didn’t help, but the right-hander’s struggles had already begun prior to his positive test just before the trade deadline.

2022 outlook: Having now spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues, Voth has pretty much established who he is. He owns a career 5.19 ERA and 1.374 WHIP across 163 total innings, but only in 2019 did he finish with an ERA below 5.34 or a WHIP better than 1.459. He walks more batters (3.6 per nine innings) and gives up more homers (1.8 per nine innings) than the average big league pitcher.

Any notion of Voth making it long-term as a starter appears to have disappeared. The question now is whether the Nationals still believe he has a chance to make it as a reliever. His fastball, despite an increase in velocity up to 94.2 mph this season, remains his most hittable pitch. (Opponents batted .292 and slugged .531 off it.) His curveball and cutter are more effective, but they only work in conjunction with the fastball.

Because he has accrued just enough service time over the years, Voth is likely to qualify for arbitration this winter as a Super Two player. That means his salary could jump up to $1 million or so. It’s not an exorbitant number for a middle reliever, but the Nats have to decide if they still see legitimate reason for improvement in 2022 or just a repeat of what they’ve already seen over the last several years.

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