It seems like it was about this time last season I was writing with great frequency about how everyone just needing to give Nick Ahmed time, that his work with the glove was so good, that the team could afford to weather the deficiencies of his bat. I'd like to think that by the end of the season, I was able to turn at least a few people around and have them thinking similarly to me. This season, Nick Ahmed started off better than he did last year, but that sure hasn't lasted long. As of this writing, Ahmed is posting a triple-slash of .192 / .263 / .342 for a wRC+ of 57.
That's horrible. There is no other way to slice it. Yet, despite that interstate batting average and his low weighted runs, Nick Ahmed is still providing positive value for the team. That's right, the glove has been so good that even Fangraphs which give Ahmed almost no defensive credit at all, still has Ahmed as a net-positive contributor. Still, with that sort of batting line, it is going to be a difficult sell for many people that Nick Ahmed should remain the everyday starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Let's give it a try though.
There are reasons to be bullish that things will turn around for Nick Ahmed at the plate. After all, he has struggled but bounced back at every level he has ever played at. Even last season, he had a strong run for three months in the middle of the season where his bat was good enough that he looked like a potential all-star shortstop. He has had extended stretches of months, not just days or a couple of weeks, where his approach at the plate paid off. Additionally, Nick Ahmed is not afraid to take his walks. In fact, Ahmed ranks fourth on the team with a 7.4% walk rate. Currently, that rate is just a bit below league average, but it still shows how much more willing to watch four pitches go wide than many of his teammates are. Walks alone could still help keep Ahmed a viable option.
For more encouraging numbers though, there is Ahmed's hard-hit percentage. Last season, while Ahmed was putting together a rather woeful offensive season, his hard-hit rate was 21.6%. This season it currently stands at 35.9%. What's more is that, with his new, more compact swing, Ahmed's ability to hit the ball with more authority looks sustainable. That's a very important point, since it should pay off in another area, BABIP. Last season, Nick Ahmed was a man of BABIP extremes. When he was going poorly, his BABIP was mind-bogglingly bad. Yet when he was going right, his BABIP was what the pundits like to politely call "unsustainable". In the end, it mostly balanced itself out though. Well, this season, despite a strong start, Nick Ahmed currently sports a BABIP of .183 on the season, compared to a league average of .297. Because Ahmed hits so many grounders, Ahmed's BABIP is probably always going to remain on the lower side, but even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut. So far it could be argued that Ahmed has an entire army of blind squirrels out there yet to find a nut. That hard-hit percentage though tells us that his BABIP, which is more than 100 points below league average, is bound to come back up. Even if Ahmed's BABIP falls 50 points short of league average, that would elevate his BABIP by a full 64 points. If Ahmed were sporting that BABIP right now, he would be batting .260, not 197. The current league average for shortstops is only a .250 batting average.
The question now is, does Ahmed's glove offset these current offensive woes? Fangraphs seems to rate Ahmed's defense somewhat lightly compared to reputation and also the eyeball test. In fact, just Monday Fangraphs had Ahmed as a middle-of-the-pack defensive shortstop in the National League. Welcome to the world of small sample sizes. As of this writing though, Nick Ahmed ranks third in the NL by UZR/150 with a 22.0 score. That's behind Brandon Crawford at 41 and Zack Cozart at 27. There is zero chance Crawford finishes anywhere near 41 for the season. Chances are greater that he finishes down around 20, which would still be a career-best. Meanwhile, there is every reason to believe that Ahmed's 22.0 is sustainable. It would be better than last season, but since he is being platooned less, that actually makes sense. Despite Ahmed having a marginally positive defensive value on Monday, Ahmed now ranks second behind Brandon Crawford in defensive runs above average at 4.2. Andrelton Simmons, now with the Angels, only scores at 4.8. Yeah, despite fangraphs not having big-time love for Ahmed's glove, the Arizona shortstop is holding his own just fine with the very best of the defenders at his position. By way of fangraphs, Ahmed has still produced 0.3 fWAR, despite his batting woes. That ranks Ahmed seventh on his team, right on the heels of the defensively challenged Yasmany Tomás and ahead of the likes of Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, and the two offseason pitching acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller.
If we head over to Baseball-Reference.com, where Ahmed's defense is appreciated even more, he suddenly becomes worth 1.2 bWAR. Another way of putting it is, he is tied for second on the team with another gifted defender, Paul Goldschmidt. Yes, that's just how good Ahmed's glove is.
The Take: With a glove good enough to help Ahmed set the pace for team leaders in WAR, despite having a demonstrably unsustainably low batting performance, it would behoove the team to take a reasoned approach with Nick Ahmed. As long as his glove continues to play (and there is no reason at all to suspect it will not), he should be out on the field. His batting line is only going to start coming up. With Ahmed already producing significant positive value, any increase in that batting line becomes icing on the cake.