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Nick Ahmed Might Be a League Average Hitter

He’s been able to hit more flyballs without sacrificing his batting average.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I was reading a FanGraphs article this morning about hitters whose performance might improve thanks to an improvement of their BABIP compared to their xBABIP. There was one Diamondback on the list of 8 hitters.

Nick Ahmed, who has the second-lowest BABIP-xBABIP in baseball.

Ahmed’s BABIP for 2018 is .247. His xBABIP? 0.347. This blew my mind. It’s not projecting Nick to have a roughly league average BABIP... it’s calling for it to have one of the better BABIPs in baseball.

Is there something that we’re all missing?

The Batting Average

The FanGraphs xBABIP equation used is fairly complicated but the three most influential inputs to the equation are LD%, Hard%, and True IFFB% (true infield flyball rate = FB% x IFFB%). Nick Ahmed is currently posting career-bests in all three metrics:

Nick Ahmed xBABIP Inputs

Year LD% Hard% True IFFB%
Year LD% Hard% True IFFB%
2014 18.30% 24.20% 3.32%
2015 16.90% 21.60% 3.94%
2016 21.50% 27.30% 3.94%
2017 20.30% 32.00% 3.14%
2018 25.90% 37.90% 2.28%

Ahmed had never been much of a BABIP guy... until this year. A large portion of this xBABIP is driven by his current 25.9% LD% which I don’t expect to be a sustainable rate for him. But even if you regress his LD% to 20%, xBABIP is still calling for a .324 BABIP from Nick Ahmed. That’s really good!

Nick doesn’t strikeout at a terrible clip. If you ignore home runs (e.g. he hits zero), a .324 BABIP and a 20% K% will yield a batting average of about .260. Home runs can add another 30-50 points to a hitter’s average (Nick’s 10 homers this year account for .044 of his average). In other words, if the current Nick Ahmed had hit closer to his expected BABIP with a similar level of power, he’d be pushing a .290 or so batting average. That’s impressive!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that’s too high for Nick Ahmed and is asking for a lot of things to go right. But I do believe that Ahmed’s shown enough with his increase in power and his ability to maintain his strikeout rates and line drive rates such that he could be more of a .250-.275 hitter going forward.

The Power

Now, this article was only focused on Ahmed’s BABIP and didn’t really dive much into his power. This article is investigating the possibility of Ahmed being a league average hitter, so we need to consider his power, too.

Obviously, it’s no surprise that Ahmed’s power is been at a career best this year. He’s already set a career high in homers (10) and we’re not even through June. His .204 ISO is well ahead of his career-best (.168) set last year. But can he sustain it?

I hopped on over to xISO at FanGraphs and ran a quick calculation. His xISO is .165, suggesting a regression.

I then went to Statcast and took a look at xSLG and xBA for Ahmed (xISO = xSLG - xBA). The projection there was .173.

Hmm. This sort of goes counter to the narrative that we’ve come to expect. What gives?

Nick Ahmed Power Inputs

Year Line Drive EV Flyball EV
Year Line Drive EV Flyball EV
2015 90.3 87.8
2016 91.2 89.6
2017 93.1 90
2018 89.3 92.5

So while Ahmed is currently enjoying a career high in flyball exit velocity, he’s also enjoying a career low in line drive exit velocity. This also might explain why he’s been underperforming his BABIP by so much - to date, he hasn’t been hitting the line drives as hard which has led to less hits than expected.

The last thing to look at - his HR/FB%. Right now, it’s at 15.9%, which is a career best. However, his xHR/FB% is currently at 13.8%, so it’s calling for some regression there.

So, I think that more-or-less sums up his power. It’s been a nice power surge, but it looks to be more in line with what the .168 ISO he posted last year (.168) than the .204 he has so far this year.

Keep in mind, the league-wide ISO is .161 on the year, so that’s still roughly league average. This is still a good thing for Nick.

So What Can We Expect?

Essentially, look for his power to drop but his batting average to rise a bit. With the rise in batting average will come a rise in on-base percentage. All-in-all, this will likely be a small net positive for Ahmed, as he’s currently sitting at a 92 wRC+ and he could probably push 100 wRC+. Statcast currently calls for a .316 xwOBA for Ahmed, which sits right around 100 wRC+.

I hope this article doesn’t disappoint you due to the likelihood for a power drop because the end result - a league-average-hitting Nick Ahmed - is a huge positive for the team. Descalso and Marte are both having breakout years and I still believe that Ahmed is the third-best middle infielder on the team, but he has turned himself into a roughly league average player (2-3 WAR). Having middle infield depth has rarely been a strength for the Arizona Diamondbacks and it gives us great flexibility for our lineups going forward. Worst case, Ahmed is now a valuable trade piece.