The night is August 12, 2022. A warm Friday evening in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the Tampa Bay Rays are hosting the miracle Baltimore Orioles. We’re just two games away from Drew Rasmussen carrying a Perfect Game into the 9th, coming just three outs short of becoming the first pitcher in a decade to hit one of the rarest feats in major league baseball. But this night, August 12, is an impressive night of its own right. We’re watching a pitcher flirt with history for far longer than expected, but more importantly, we’re watching a win for the Orioles’ pitching staff. This is the night where the Orioles development staff got a win – breakout Austin Voth night.
Voth would retire the first 10 batters of the game before surrendering a walk to David Peralta. He would then go on to retire the next 4 hitters before Christian Bethancourt reaches on an error, then ending the inning on a flyout to Left Field. Austin Voth has pitched five innings without allowing a hit. His no-hit bid wouldn’t last much longer, as he’d allow two runs on three hits in the 6th inning and leave the game after just one more out. Despite the unceremonious finish to his evening, make no mistake – Voth is pitching like never before.
Change of Scenery
Austin Voth’s time with the Washington Nationals was nothing short of mediocrity. Through his first four seasons, he had an ERA in the low fives while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He showed glimpses of promise, posting a 3.38 ERA with 9.1 K/9 in 43.2 IP in 2019, but nothing sustainable. With a 10.13 ERA in his first 19 appearances in 2022, his time in Washington was over, and it would not be surprising if his time in the majors was over, at least for a while. Instead, the Baltimore Orioles claimed him off waivers and gave him a shot immediately.
His beginning was a little rocky. Even after he was added to the starting rotation, he reached five innings pitched only four times in his first nine starts. July 31st against the Cincinnati Reds was the first sign that things were turning his way. He had already brought his ERA down to 6.15 – a much improved number – but he finished this game at 5.54 after allowing no runs on 4 hits while striking out 6 over 5 innings. From this point on, he’s reached 5 or more innings in all but one start. Voth is pitching like a changed man.
Seeing such an incredible comeback story – a World Series winning pitcher DFA’d by his first and only team, now finding a new home on one of baseball’s most exciting team – begs the question – is Austin Voth just a flash in the pan, or is this newfound success sustainable? Is he a long-term piece for the Baltimore Orioles, or a short-term bandage to injuries? Let’s examine what’s making him so effective.
Change of Production
Voth’s biggest statistical changes come from his Walks and Home Runs. His 2.8 BB/9 is a significant change from 4.4 in 2021, and he’s seen a huge Home Run rate regression with a 9.6 HR/FB%, compared to 16.9% and 17.9% the past two seasons. (A typical HR/FB% is 10.0; xFIP adjusts FIP to a league-average HR/FB%, and his FIP-xFIP splits have been massive the past two seasons). These stats help, especially with lowering his FIP from 4.90 to 3.87, but don’t account for such a dramatic change.
For more help, we need to dig a little deeper into pitch mix and location. Voth is not an overwhelming pitcher – his 93.7 MPH average fastball velocity is only in the 30th percentile among pitchers. He does, however, get a lot of spin on the ball – 95th percentile in Curveball spin rate. This gives him 57.1 inches of vertical drop on his Curveball, 3% better than average, and 16.0 inches of horizontal break, a whopping 61% better than average. His curveball is still a bit of a work in progress, still hanging in the zone too much at times, but he’s seeing much better results with it this year than last.
Austin Voth has been yet another revelation for the Baltimore Orioles pitching staff, but is this newfound success legit?
For those who I’m starting to lose, I apologize. Let me summarize it like this – he has a lot of break on his Curveball, which is leading to better and more frequent usage of his Curveball, which is his primary strikeout pitch.
Even though I say he could be locating his Curveball better, it’s still a significant improvement from 2021. As a right-handed pitcher, he should be locating his Curveball generally to the bottom-right corner, breaking away from right-handed batters. Instead, it was often hanging middle-left. With the Curveball breaking into the barrel of the bat, not away, that pitch went for extra bases more often than now. Against righties in 2022, where his Curveball is breaking away, Voth allows a .226 AVG and 32.0 Whiff% – improved from a .237 AVG and 28.8 WHIFF% in 2021. It’s effective.
Voth has also reintroduced his Slider into the mix, a pitch that was missing for the past two seasons. He doesn’t throw this pitch often, just 2.8% of the time, but hitters are slashing .000/.000/.000 against the 40 sliders he’s thrown this season. He doesn’t use his Slider as a strikeout pitch, but the 26.3 Whiff% is pretty nice. Despite its little usage, his Slider is insanely productive.
Change of Defense
Another underrated aspect of Voth’s move was having a much-improved infield defense. Here’s the Nationals’ defense by DRS:
Austin Voth’s BABIP: .455
Compare this to the Orioles’ defense:
Austin Voth’s BABIP: .271
Especially when you look at the left side of the infield, you see a dramatic change. He’s actually allowing fewer ground balls with the Orioles, but even still – he can trust the defense behind him to make plays now. His H/9 has dropped from 16.4 with Washington to 7.9 with Baltimore, and that can be greatly attributed to his infield defense.
Would I trust Austin Voth with one of the Orioles’ rotation spots in 2023? Well, to know that, we need to see what the Orioles have for options.
SP1: Dean Kremer
SP2: Grayson Rodriguez
SP3: John Means
SP4/5: Spenser Watkins/Kyle Bradish/DL Hall/Austin Voth/Tyler Wells
There’s definitely a path to the rotation for Voth, especially if the Orioles choose to use DL Hall as a reliever long-term. But I would be surprised if this is how the rotation looks next season. The Orioles have plenty of money to spend, and I think they’ll make a splash at a Starting Pitcher. This would leave Voth to battle Watkins, Bradish and Wells for the final two spots in the rotation, and he could win that battle in Spring Training.
Projecting Austin Voth’s future
I think that Voth can consistently pitch like this, because we saw him do it in 2019 (43.2 IP, 3.30 ERA). He’s not just relying on a low HR/FB% or a low BABIP, he’s changing his pitch mix for more effective results. He lacks the qualities of a true #1 or #2 guy, and those aren’t my expectations for him. But as a spot-starter, depth pitcher would could fill in for injuries and even battle for a #5 spot? Yeah, I’d trust him. Maybe he moves into a long reliever role to start out the year, but I’d bet on him to be handed some starts throughout the year. If the Orioles don’t make a move for another pitcher in the offseason, I believe he’ll be back in the rotation to start off next season.
I greatly appreciate what Austin Voth is doing this season, and there’s no reason to believe the Orioles won’t keep him around in some capacity in 2022.