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AZ SnakePit Awards: Rookie of the Year, Nick Ahmed

Congratulations to Nick Ahmed, who takes over from David Peralta as Rookie of the Year, and provided stellar defense for the Diamondbacks at shortstop all season.

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With three hundred votes cast, Ahmed received 39% of the votes, with Robbie Ray coming in as runner-up on 23%. Here are all the previous winners of the award:

  • 2006: Stephen Drew
  • 2007: Chris Young
  • 2008: Max Scherzer
  • 2009: Gerardo Parra
  • 2010: Daniel Hudson
  • 2011: Josh Collmenter
  • 2012: Wade Miley
  • 2013: A.J. Pollock
  • 2014: David Peralta
  • 2015: Nick Ahmed

"There's something to get better at every single day. Whether it's just being more consistent, more accurate with your throws, better with your footwork, better with your reads, everything can be improved upon."
-- Nick Ahmed

We knew, going into this season, that Ahmed's strong suit was his defense, and that certainly proved the case in 2015, as he lived up to expectations with an almost nightly delivery of one or more highlight-reel plays. There may be many things former GM Kevin Towers said that were wrong-headed, but it's hard to argue with his assessment that, "Nick Ahmed is probably one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball." He had to earn the position of everyday shortstop in spring training, battling to win it against Chris Owings, and even late in March, manager Chip Hale was still unwilling to commit to a decision.

The choice was finally made just a couple of days before the season started: "It was a quick conversation. [Hale] just called me in the office and said I was going to be the starting shortstop, that I did a good job this spring and earned that role," the manager adding, "The defense was as impressive as I was told and the offense was a lot better than I was told it was going to be." However, Ahmed struggled badly at the plate in the early going. On May 11, after his 27th game, Ahmed had just 10 hits in 77 at-bats for a line of .130/.221/.143 and a .364 OPS. [On the same same day, Paul Goldschmidt had a batting average of .342!]

Ahmed worked with hitting coach Turner Ward and his assistant Mark Grace, and continued to enjoy the support of Tony La Russa: "I think Ahmed is making a real positive effort with Turner and Mark to build a stroke that he can repeat, that's gonna make him an offensive plus. We believe in him because we know the talent, we know the work ethic. But you don't just flip the switch. He's making adjustments and he'll continue to adjust." And things did improve; eleven days after that low-water mark, Ahmed got his average back up over the Uecker line and hit .247/.288/.407 the rest of the way., a .695 OPS which was actually better than league average for the position.

Meanwhile, his defense showed no slump, and continued to dazzle, and he had four plays in our list of 20 potential plays of the year. There could have been many more, Ahmed showing a combination of agility and range, as well as a throwing arm that combined strength and accuracy. Perhaps no game showcased this better than the 3-1 win over the Marlins on July 20, where Ahmed recorded 10 assists, one shy of the franchise record, and was involved in almost half (13 of 27) of all the outs recorded by the defense. He said, "Any time we get a lot of action like that it’s a lot of fun. I hate those games where I go out there and don’t touch the ball for nine innings."

There are still potential areas of improvement. Late on in the season, Hale commented that Ahmed needs to do more at the plate. "He's got to do better. Especially against right-handed pitching. He knows it." The same article, from September, says Ahmed "has been working with hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coach Mark Grace on being shorter to the ball with his swing, and getting his foot down and staying on top of the ball so he does not hit as many fly balls." A few more walks wouldn't hurt either: Ahmed's BB% of 6.3% was below the MLB average of 7.6%, though his nine home-runs this year was more than anyone would have expected.

For 2016, Ahmed probably doesn't have to worry about competing for his job in spring-training: the shortstop position appears to be his for the foreseeable future. His top-tier defense - with Andrelton Simmons no longer in the National League, a Gold Glove nomination would not be a surprise next year - means that he doesn't need to bat .300 to be extremely valuable, especially considering he'll still be earning close to league minimum through the end of the 2017 campaign . I'd be perfectly happy to see Ahmed produce somewhere around that league average OPS, and continue to be a human event-horizon for balls hit into the shortstop hole.