By: Chris Larson
When you start to survey the national landscape, particularly among shortstops, Nick Ahmed is not someone who automatically pops into your head or likely even comes up in the conversation when you try to list out who the Top 10 Shortstops in the game right now are. Instead, you are likely to list out names such as: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Manny Machado, Didi Gregorious, and Andrelton Simmons.
However, the Arizona Diamondbacks are, in the position in the standings that they are right now, because of brilliant defense and Nick Ahmed is a huge reason why. Originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves, during the 2nd round of the 2011 Amateur Draft, Ahmed was one of the big centerpieces in the Justin Upton trade that also saw former, Dbacks third baseman Brandon Drury, find a new home in the desert. At the time, the deal looked as though it heavily favored the Braves, who figured that they were getting a great power bat in Justin Upton, but over time, it looks as though the Diamondbacks might have come out on top because of the value that Nick Ahmed has brought to the team.
Ahmed, who turned 28 last March, missed the latter part of the 2016 season, due to a right hip impingement, before being put on the shelf from July 31st on last season, recovering from a fractured right hand. Arizona greatly missed the defense at the shortstop position during Ahmed's absence from the team over the past two seasons, but so far this year, Ahmed has been able to thankfully stay healthy and show Diamondback fans as well as the rest of baseball, why Mike Hazen & Company held onto him when the new regime took over.
To this point this season, you could easily make the argument that Nick Ahmed should end the year with a Gold Glove, given the tremendous defensive plays that he has put up and the impact that his glove, has had on the overall performance of the team as a whole. For illustration, just take a look at some of the defensive numbers for proof. To date, Ahmed ranks third, among all qualified hitters, in Defensive Runs Saved (19) and has an overall Defensive rating of (8.9), which puts him in the Top 15 among players in that category.
More specifically, Ahmed's 19 Defensive Runs Saved, puts him second among qualified shortstops, behind the great Andrelton Simmons out in Anaheim with the Angels. Furthermore, Nick Ahmed has a UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 Innings) of 5.2, putting him seventh on the list. Anytime you are trying to evaluate a players defensive skills, it is important to look at the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), but also important to look at UZR/150 because it gives you such a large sample size to make a clear evaluation from.
Defense hasn't been the only selling point for Nick Ahmed and the value that he has brought to the Arizona Diamondbacks this year either. Ahmed's offense has also been something to make a note of and has been pretty impressive this season. So far this year, Ahmed is batting: .245/.297/.437, over the span of 492 plate appearances, with 111 hits, 29 doubles, 5 triples, 16 home runs, 63 RBI, 33 walks, and 94 strikeouts. Sure, the batting average and on-base percentage are low, but any team would take a shortstop who could rake up 100+ hits, rake up 16 or more home runs, and someone who isn't afraid to take a walk when it matters the most either.
In most of the offensive categories among qualified shortstops, Nick Ahmed ranks in the Top 10 or Top 15. However, all of his offense adds up to an overall Offensive value of (-7.6), putting him below the league average among those at his position. Although, one of the best qualities about Ahmed's offense continues to be his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Over 154 at bats against lefties this season, Ahmed is hitting: .260/.303/.500 with 40 hits, 7 doubles, 3 triples, 8 home runs, 23 RBI, and 10 walks. That is a big reason why Torey Lovullo is so adamant about having Ahmed in the lineup when the opposing team has a left-hander starting the game.
Furthermore, Nick Ahmed has done a really good job this year of hitting with runners on base. To date, through 180 at bats with runners on base, Ahmed is hitting: .239/.293/.411 with 43 hits, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs, 54 RBI, and 15 walks. Essentially, Torey Lovullo has the option to use Ahmed off the bench, when he doesn't start, late in the game against a left-handed reliever or even use him in a situation where there might be runners on-base and the team needs a pinch hitter, to drive home those runners. Both of those situations carry weight in the regular season, but become even more significant come October.
In the end, Nick Ahmed likely isn't a name that you automatically think of when you start to list out who the Top 10 Shortstops are in the game right now, but he definitely deserves to be recognized and his defense this season, has certainly been Gold Glove worthy. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, that has been extremely valuable all season long, as the team ranks as one of the best Defensive teams in all of baseball, and is a big reason why the Diamondbacks, are in the position, that they are right now.