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SnakePit Round Table: Shortstop

Appropriate for Nick Ahmed to be announced as our Rookie of the Year yesterday, because the shortstop position was the topic of this week's Round Table for the SnakePit staff...

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2015 saw mostly Nick Ahmed, with a little Chris Owings, and a sprinkling of Cliff Gosselin. Or maybe Phil Pennington. I forget. Overall, how do you feel it worked out?

Preston: By WAA, the Diamondbacks were above-average at the shortstop position. They were helped by Owings and Pennington always hitting better when playing shortstop (and Pennington's defense was better at shortstop than at third base, as well.) But still, they were only 0.3 WAA, good for 11th in MLB. Basically, the shortstop position wasn't costing the Diamondbacks many games, but it wasn't exactly a position of strength, either. Nick Ahmed was impressive according to Baseball-Reference, with 1.1 WAA and 2.5 WAR, including a surprising 0.3 oWAR. Fangraphs doesn't like him nearly as much. His biggest problem at the plate in 2015 was extended cold periods.

Makakilo: The Diamondbacks' 0.3 WAA at shortstop was 5th in the NL. It worked out OK. Yet, an opportunity was lost because Nick Ahmed played less than the full season at shortstop. The main reason was Owings had 116 PAs, Pennington 73 PAs, and Drury 3 PAs.

soco: I'm a sucker for flashy defense at short, so I think it went well.

Jim: When I was writing up the Rookie of the Year piece, what stood out for me is that there was actually a time, even late in spring training, when we were surprised to hear Ahmed could end up as the everyday shortstop. I guess we expected to see Aaron Hill at second and Chris Owings at short. How long ago that seems, and there's no doubt Ahmed was the correct decision. We could have use more offense, certainly, but it wasn't a travesty, and the number of hits and runs taken away by Ahmed's glove made up for that.

Nate: Meh. It was fine when Ahmed was kind of hitting in May and June, but he was batting well under .200 in the other months. Even with his great defense, he needs to be somewhat competent with that bat to have value.

Piratedan7: Would I have liked it if Nick had hit better, yes... yes I would. Did I shelve all that stuff when I realized that I can't remember a game where his defense cost us a game? Yup, I did that too.

What impressed you most about Ahmed's defense?

Preston: His footwork. One reason why Ahmed was able to nail so many runners on what looked like impossible plays was that he was putting himself in the best position to not only get the ball, but also to make the throw.

soco: building off Preston's answer, he made it look easy, because he has his mechanics down pat.

Makakilo: Baseball reference shows his dWAR was 2.8 in 2015. And he is only 25 years old!

Jim: I'm not exactly a technical analyst of defensive skills, but he seemed to be capable of getting to virtually any ball on the left side of the infield - there's a very good reason why, when the team used the defensive shift, they moved the 3B across, and left Nick with everything else! I would presume that range is a result of having a good first step, and almost being able to anticipate the most likely trajectories for a ball in play.

Nate: Going off what everyone else said, he seemed to make the plays most guys would have to dive for look routine. He also seemed really quick getting the ball out of his glove, allowing them to turn double plays some teams wouldn't have a chance at.

Piratedan7: His overall competency, he wasn't perfect but rarely did he make a killer mistake with either the arm or the glove.

How good does Ahmed's bat need to be in 2016?

Preston: Assuming his defense doesn't drop off, if he posts an OPS+/wRC of around 80, he'll provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 WAR. That's about what Andrelton Simmons did last year.

Makakilo: If Nick Ahmed continues to excel in defense, I would be satisfied if he finds a way to be just 2% better than the most he is capable of. Nick Ahmed has the attitude of continuous improvement. Nick Ahmed said "I had some ups and downs, but I gained a lot of experience," and "I think I made improvements in all parts of my game, but you always have to keep working at it." [Ahmed quotes reported in Gary Brown internet article December deals bolster Diamondbacks' rotation and Nick Ahmed's outlook dated 16 Dec 2015.]

Jim: Not really very much better than now. I'd like a few more walks, but if he can get the average up into the .240's, perhaps with an OBP of .300 and SLG of .380, that would be fine. Something else mentioned in the rookie piece, which does appear to be the case, is Ahmed will need to handle RHP with more tenacity: he batted just .201 there, with a K:BB ratio of 66:19.

Nate: I'd be fine with an OBP around .300, a little higher definitely wouldn't hurt. It would also be nice if he avoids those slumps where he bats .150 for 3 weeks.

Piratedan7: He just needs to improve and I'll be happy. Not every major leaguer establishes himself and his sets a threshold on the first year in the bigs. Some guys actually grow, mature and become better craftsmen at their job, I hope that Nick can be one of those guys.

Will it get there?

Preston: I'm optimistic that Ahmed can get there. He's always been a streaky hitter, but his season-total BABIP last year was .257. It's not going to be that low again. If he can get that number up to .280, and doesn't have a drop in power, his bat will be plenty good enough. If his BABIP can top .300, he could even be All Star level.

Jim: I'm inclined to think so; this was his first full season in the majors, and it seemed that he was able to make the necessary adjustments after struggling in the early going. His line was markedly better after the middle of May, and as long as he can hang in there a bit better against those right-handed pitchers, we'll be okay. He'll only just have turned 26 by Opening Day 2016, so he's still on the way up.

Nate: He definitely showed the potential to do it, batting .286/.321/.468 in May. Will he? Sure, why not. Optimism is better than pessimism.

If it isn't, what should "Plan B" be?

Preston: If Ahmed gets off to a slow start again in 2016, the Diamondbacks need to be patient. There are plenty of options in the system, but none of these options provide as much defensive upside, and there is a very real possibility that they wouldn't be better offensively, either. At the moment, it looks like Chris Owings will get first crack at second base, which means that moving him to shortstop would require either Brandon Drury or Phil Gosselin to play second. Drury there might be the best option, but a middle infield of Drury-Owings is a substantial drop-off defensively from Owings-Ahmed. Sean Jamieson would likely get a look if he is doing well at Reno. Phil Gosselin will almost certainly not be used at shortstop, as Brandon Drury was tabbed to start at shortstop over Gosselin on September 25th, so it's hard to imagine the team thinks Gosselin has much of a chance to play there.

Makakilo: Chris Owings had impressive numbers in the 2014 season. If the dropoff was due to injury, and and he returns to 2014 form, Chris Owings is plan B. Otherwise, given the team's win-now priority, a trade is plan C. One possible trade partner is the Reds. The Reds have two shortstops: Zack Cozart, age 30, who tore knee ligaments and is expected to be fully recovered in spring training,and his replacement Eugenio Suarez, age 24.

Jim: I agree with Preston about the need for patience - and I think the team already showed they are willing to do that, by sticking with Ahmed after he started the season off hitting below Ronda Rousey's weight, never mind his own. He's cheap, he's young and he plays sterling defense at a premium position. If the rest of the offense plays at the level they did last year, what Ahmed does at the plate will likely not matter.

Nate: Plan B should be sticking with Ahmed. Do you really think Owings is going to hit that much better? After last year, I'm inclined to say no.

Piratedan7: We see what else happens, loads of possibilities... Owings for one, Reinheimer for two, trades, for three.... and there's still the FA market out there....

Dansby Swanson: we hardly knew ye. Will his departure be one we regret?

Preston: I think we will regret losing Swanson one way or another. As I've said before, I would have much rather traded only Pollock than Inciarte, Blair, and Swanson. Even if Ahmed pans out and plays above average shortstop for the next five years, I think we would have gotten a lot more in trade for Swanson in a year, or even at the deadline. If Ahmed doesn't pan out, we're stuck hoping Domingo Leyba turns into something. We have a lot of options, but losing the one top-level prospect among them is going to hurt.

Makakilo: I won't have regrets. This question reminded me of the 2014 epic battle for shortstop between Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings. And what was the final result in 2015? Neither player is the Diamondbacks' shortstop. Instead, circumstances opened a door for Nick Ahmed. By trading away Swanson, perhaps we avoided an epic battle between Dansby Swanson and Jamie Westbrook. Maybe Jamie Westbrook will be the Diamondbacks' shortstop. And maybe circumstances are opening the door for an as-yet unheralded prospect.

Jim: Probably not for a few years, at worst. Any kind of deal involving prospects is very hard to judge at the time. Just look at the one which got us Ahmed, where we dealt Justin Upton for Martin Prado. Both of the "big" pieces there are now gone from the clubs, and beyond that too. But almost three years on from the deal, it's how Ahmed and Drury perform going forward that will actually decided whether this trade turned out to be a win or not for the D-backs.

Nate: I don't think it will be. If the D-Backs fail to make a deep run in the next 3 years, then maybe. It's tough to say whether we'll regret losing a guy who hasn't played above A-Ball yet, though.

John B made the case that Jamie Westbrook helped make Swanson expendable. Were you convinced?

Preston: I'm sold on Westbrook being a good prospect, and we might well need him at second base, if Owings, Drury, and Gosselin can't hold down the position. But unless he can move to short and provide good defense there, I'm not sure I see the trade-off. Ahmed still hasn't proven he can hold down the position, and behind him there is Chris Owings, Sean Jamieson, Jack Reinheimer (none of whom have as much upside as Swanson) and...? There are plenty of prospects further down in the system (Leyba, Isan Diaz, Sergio Alcantara, and the recently acquired Dawel Lugo) but none of them will be ready to fill in during the competitive window. So I'm excited to see what Westbrook can do, but I'm still pretty sure that trading Swanson was more about holding onto Pollock than with a view towards any future replacement.

Makakilo: Will Jamie Westbrook make us think TV dinner when we hear Swanson? I was convinced. John B's article was corroborated by an objective and quantitative forecast of prospects - KATOH. KATOH ranked Jamie Westbrook as #13, which was significantly ahead of Brandon Drury (#69). I was surprised and glad about Westbrook's exceptionally high rank!

Jim: It's always comforting to hear good things about any of our prospects. I am happy to defer to those who have studied him in more detail, so for now, yes, I am happy to proclaim Westbrook the next future Derek JeterTM.

Piratedan7: Taken in context, yes. He wasn't going to be Correa, I think we knew that, but I also don't believe that was was going to be judged in the same format that doomed Justin Upton's time with us with the expectations that he would be the next boy wunderkind. Not saying that Swanson may end up being an extremely capable player, but who's to say that the same can't be said with Westbrook? If Shelby Miller helps us win a pennant and maybe a WS, I think the old saying goes, flags fly forever.

And finally... Since it's Christmas. What's the second-best Christmas movie of all time? Because the first is, by SnakePit decree: Die Hard.

Preston: I'm not a big fan of official "Christmas" movies. But the Billy Bob Thornton film Daddy and Them (also featuring Andy Griffith and John Prine, who wrote a song for the movie) will make anyone feel better about any family dysfunction that becomes apparent during the holidays. Extremely dark, but enough to make anyone feel their family is normal.

Makakilo: I enjoy old black and white movies. My choice is It's a Wonderful Life. The film has a heartwarming romance, a satisfying message about serving other people, and a challenge of significance. Jimmy Stewart is a great role model.

Jim: Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Christmas movie? Or a Halloween movie? Guess it's a bit of both, really. I'm a sucker for The Sound of Music; while not technically a Christmas film, it was always a staple of Christmas Day TV when I was growing up, and so always reminds me of warm tinsel and stuff!

Nate: Elf. Not even close.

Piratedan7: A Christmas Story - It is a singular guilty pleasure and the work done by Darren McGavin is awesome considering the source material by taking a caricature and giving it flesh and nuance. Besides, how can you diss any movie that has both a full size pink rabbit bunny suit and a seductive lamp?