- 2018 rating: 7.54
- 2017 rating: 5.18
- 2018 salary: $1,275,000
- 2018 performance: 564 PA, .234/.290/.411 (81 OPS+/84 wRC+), 16 HR, 54 XBH, 5 SB, 21 DRS at SS
- 2019 status: Arbitration-2 (estimated $3,100,000)
Since he arrived on the scene in 2014, the narrative has always been the same. If Nick Ahmed could just hit a tiny bit, he’d be a valuable, everyday starter, because the glove is just that good. It never quite happened though. From 2014-16 Ahmed managed just under 1,000 plate appearances during which he showed a drastic lack of ability to hit left-handed pitching and during which his BABIP was scarily low. Combined with a significant injury to his hip, which eventually required surgery to repair, it became a real question as to whether or not Ahmed had a place on a competing team’s 25-man roster. Some around the Snake Pit continued to support playing him as often as possible, avoiding starting him against tough lefties. Others were entirely ready to move on, relegating him to a late-inning defensive replacement on a second-tier team at best.
With Ahmed missing so much time in 2017, there was some real concern about whether or not he would be durable enough to last out the 2018 season. Tied to those concerns were further concerns about whether or not ihs anemic bat should even be given the opportunity to try. To his credit, Ahmed did not allow his doubters to become a distraction. He showed up for camp healthy, fit, and ready to compete for his spot on the roster for the third consecutive season. It didn’t take long at all for him to change that narrative. By the time he was two weeks into his spring, Ahmed showed he was healthy and agile enough that his glove was still going to play. He went from competing for the position to the position of shortstop being his to lose.
Once the regular season rolled around, Ahmed found himself off to a sluggish start. Through his first 16 games of the season, Ahmed had only 11 hits and 14 strikeouts. On the defensive side of things, he had already committed three errors on the year, two coming in that 16th game on April 20 against the woeful Padres. In short, Ahmed was not making fans in Arizona very happy with the decision to name him the team’s starting shortstop. The next day, Ahmed’s batting average dropped below .200. It remained south of the Uecker Line for a week.
Then Ahmed finally pulled out of his funk. He tallied nine hits in just four games, including back-to-back three-hit outings. It would also be 51 games between his two-error game and the next time he committed an error. Through the beginning of July, Ahmed was the player he had been the previous three years. His bat was still hurting his value, but his glove was a constant source of highlight material.
As the season warmed up in July, so did Nick Ahmed. It was in the beginning of July that Ahmed finally started to do something he hadn’t really done at the MLB level before. He started to hit. This was no explosion though. It was simply a slow, steady climb. He began July batting a paltry .203. He finished the month batting .221. He started the next month off nicely, and managed over the course of the month to bring his average all the way up to .241. It remained above .240 until the final week of the season, after the team was eliminated from October play.
While this level of offensive output is nothing special on the surface, it was a major factor in evaluating Nick Ahmed. That growth at the plate allowed Ahmed to do something he had never done before. It allowed him to provide enough offense that he produced positive value with the bat, meaning the team realized every bit of value that he provided with his glove.
To reward the Diamondbacks for their faith and patience in him, Nick Ahmed tallied 21 defensive runs saved, tied for the most in all of baseball with perennial defensive standout, Andrelton Simmons. That meant that Ahmed led the entire National League. He also helped turn the second-most double plays among NL shortstops while putting together the highest fielding percentage. He also made more of the “tough plays” as defined by Inside Edge than any other shortstop in the league. In short, Nick Ahmed, with his lightning fast ball transfer, became a human highlight reel. The Diamondbacks cemented their reputation as an excellent fielding team in 2018, Nick Ahmed was a driving force behind that narrative.
I was going to include some highlights, but there were just too many to pick from. Instead, I’ll just leave this link here for the Pittie Awards: Ahmed Edition.
Nick Ahmed will be in his second year of arbitration in 2019. His previous lack of hitting means that the expected salary is still quite low. Unlike past seasons, Ahmed will not be looking to win his chance to play short for Arizona. Barring an unlikely trade, the position is unquestionably Ahmed’s for at least one more season.