The Nationals have named right-hander Austin Voth the fifth starter in their rotation, manager Dave Martinez told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli). Right-hander Erick Fedde, who’d been his primary competition after Joe Ross opted out of the 2020 season, will head to the bullpen.
In many ways, this has been a long time coming for the 28-year-old Voth, who has appeared on the cusp of a bigger role with the team for several years. Back in 2016, Voth spent his age-24 season in Triple-A and racked up 157 innings with a 3.15 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9 and a 49.7 percent ground-ball rate. He looked MLB-ready at the time — or at least in line for a legitimate audition — but the Nats entered 2017 with a full rotation. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark were all established arms, and the aforementioned Ross had just turned in 105 MLB frames of 3.43 ERA ball. Voth headed back to Triple-A, where he struggled through an injury-plagued season.
A year later, Voth was working on rebuilding his stock in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well — but offseason signee Jeremy Hellickson was pitching better as the fifth starter at the MLB level. The 2019 season brought Voth his first extended look in the big leagues, and the righty gave the Nationals 43 1/3 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 1.03 HR/9 in a quietly strong rookie effort.
Back in April, I took a look at some of the underlying numbers in that impressive eight-start run for Voth, noting that his curveball was an overwhelmingly effective pitch that featured top-of-the-scale spin rate. The hard-hit rate yielded by Voth and his opponents’ expected batting average, slugging percentage and weighted on-base average all pointed to someone who has the potential to be far more than a run-of-the-mill fifth starter.
The 27-year-old Fedde, meanwhile, will look to settle in as a full-time reliever it seems. The former first-round pick has made 26 starts in the big leagues but just nine bullpen appearances. Fedde’s average fastball as a starter last year was 92.1 mph, but that jumped to 93.3 mph when he spent the month of September in the bullpen working in shorter stints. Fedde has yet to find much success above the Double-A level, but he’s also worked primarily out of the rotation, with nearly 80 percent of his professional appearances being starts. He does possess strong K/BB numbers in the minors in addition to strong ground-ball rates, so perhaps airing it out in shorter stints and narrowing his pitch selection will help him to tap into his potential.