clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The case for Nick Ahmed to win the NL Gold Glove

Visual Scouting, Traditional and Advanced Metrics all agree Nick is the best.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Nick Ahmed is a great defensive shortstop. He’s not just good. He’s great, and he’s having his best season yet. He’s also having the best defensive season among all National League Shortstops, and should be considered the front runner for the NL Gold Glove for his position. He’s making every play he should make, and is making more of the “tough” plays than anyone else in the league as well. That unbeatable combination makes you the best.

As one might gather, any defense of that position from me is going to come primarily from a statistics point of view. I am not a scout. However I watch almost every inning of every game, and feel like I have a pretty good feel for the ebb and flow of player performance. Simply put, Nick has never looked better to me. He makes every single routine play look....well....routine. He continually makes difficult plays look easy. And he often dazzles us with the spectacular play that leave you wondering how in the heck he just did that. I’ll be able to quantify those impressions for you later in the article.

Diamondbacks play by play man Steve Berthiaume was gushing about Nick’s defense on Friday nights broadcast. He was especially articulate in describing how Ahmed’s transfer and throw motion is lightening quick, and whether stationary or on the run , he always gets off a strong accurate throw. This was not mere pom pom waving from the home broadcaster. One could tell he was genuinely marveling in Nick’s abilities. We’ll quantify this too.

Bob Brenly added that when Ahmed first came up he didn’t “see it”, (“it” being the raves and accolades Nick arrived from the minor leagues with). Brenly saw a gangly , all arms and elbows guy that just didn’t seem to fit the prototype. But the appreciation gained over time for Nick’s excellence completely turned his view and he’s convinced Ahmed is among the best in the business. These guys have a front row seat every night, see all the other shortstops in the league, have the experience to know what they are looking at, and in this case, having listened to them for years, I can tell when they are truly praising as opposed to just promoting the hometown guy. The numbers back them up too.

So lets dive in and see what the numbers show:

The Basics: Fielding % and Errors:

Ahmed leads all NL Qualified Shortstops in Fielding Percentage, and has the fewest throwing errors, with just one. His .987 FP is the best of his career so far. (career .979)

NL SS Ranked by FP

Name Team G Inn FE TE DP FP
Name Team G Inn FE TE DP FP
Nick Ahmed ARI 112 949 5 1 70 .987
Freddy Galvis SDP 126 1116 3 4 59 .986
Trevor Story COL 121 1071 3 5 65 .984
Brandon Crawford SFG 115 999 5 4 75 .982
Scott Kingery PHI 89 690 2 3 35 .982
Trea Turner WSN 121 1063 7 2 52 .981
Jordy Mercer PIT 106 906 7 2 40 .978
Dansby Swanson ATL 105 910 7 2 56 .977
Amed Rosario NYM 109 944 8 2 43 .974
Jose Peraza CIN 119 1018 10 4 63 .968
Addison Russell CHC 110 897 5 9 59 .967

Remember I said I’d be able to quantify Steve Berthiaume’s observation. Not only does Ahmed have only 1 throwing error, but as a team the Diamondbacks have the 2nd fewest 1st Basemen “Scoops” in the NL with just 12. As a team the DBacks have the 2nd fewest throwing errors from 2b/3b/ss with 9, AND the 2nd fewest scoops from first base, meaning it’s not Goldy saving their bacon. The entire infield is throwing well, but nobody is throwing better than Nick Ahmed.

Defensive Runs Saved ABOVE AVERAGE created by Baseball Info Solutions, Available at and Bill James Online Stats section (subscription required)

DRS is a combination of runs above or below average for various categories

Plus/Minus (PM)

Plus/Minus, which represents the number of plays the player made above/below the number that an average fielder would make, according to the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions. We also rate corner infielders for their handling of bunts, middle infielders for their work on the double play, and outfielders for how often they have thrown out baserunners (“Kills”) and how often they have allowed them to take the extra base. “Rank” shows the player’s ranking in a particular category among qualifying players at his position (usually around 30).

GBDP runs, simply the number of runs above or below avg from starting or turning DP’s. per opportunity.


GFP/DME Runs Saved—this is .... Based on Baseball Info Solutions’ tracking of 28 different types of Good Fielding Plays (GFP) and 54 types of Defensive Misplays and Errors (DME), we estimate how many runs are saved or lost to the team on these plays. For example, Carl Crawford made a Good Play “Holds to Single” 17 times in the last three years. This saves bases which, in turn, saves runs. We use sabermetric techniques to come up with good estimates of those saved runs.

A comment here about Rate vs. Counting Stats. Rate Stats are percentage stats, such as Batting Avg, OPS, ERA, etc. Counting Stats are just the totals of the raw number of events, such as hits, strikeouts, home runs, etc. “Above average” metrics are a little bit of both. This metric is measuring the number of plays and runs saved above and below average. Accordingly it can move up or down, like a rate stat, depending on the player’s performance. However if the player is steadily above average, he can continue to add to the number throughout the season, which is what makes it look like a counting stat. So just remember, when looking at DRS, it’s runs saved above or below average for that position.

Here is Nick’s career since entering MLB. (Ranks are all MLB, not just NL)

Nick Ahmed career DRS

Year Innings Plus/Minus GDP GFP/DME Total Rank
Year Innings Plus/Minus GDP GFP/DME Total Rank
2014 167 2 0 0 2 -
2015 1042 15 3 1 19 3
2016 721 9 2 2 13 5
2017 382 2 1 0 3 -
2018 949 14 1 2 17 1

Ahmed ranked 3rd in DRS in 2015, and 5th in 2016 despite playing 300 fewer innings. In 2018 he not only ranks 1st in all of MLB, (not just the NL also 1 ahead of Andrelton Simmons who has 16) but is also “on pace” to eclipse his career best from 2015. Note on below table it also shows DRS/Year, which is based on rate per 1200 innings, or approx 135 Games. So if a fielder plays over 1200 innings, his DRS/YR will be lower than his actual total. Also note this only includes SS with minimum 500 innings at SS this year.

NL DRS Leaders

Rk Name Tm G Inn rDRS Rpm Rdp GFP/DME Rdrs/yr
Rk Name Tm G Inn rDRS Rpm Rdp GFP/DME Rdrs/yr
1 Nick?Ahmed ARI 112 949 17 14 1 2 22
2 Addison?Russell CHC 110 897 13 11 2 0 18
3 Miguel?Rojas MIA 69 548 10 8 0 2 22
4 Brandon?Crawford SFG 115 999 9 4 0 5 11
5 Paul?DeJong STL 77 682 8 9 -1 0 14
6 Dansby?Swanson ATL 105 910 7 7 0 0 9
7 Freddy?Galvis SDP 126 1116 6 8 -2 0 7
8 Trea?Turner WSN 121 1063 6 6 -1 1 7
9 Orlando?Arcia MIL 80 607 6 8 0 -2 12
10 Trevor?Story COL 121 1071 4 2 1 1 5
11 Chris?Taylor LAD 74 636 4 6 -1 -1 8
12 Jose?Peraza CIN 119 1018 -1 2 -1 -2 -1
13 Scott?Kingery PHI 89 690 -4 -4 0 0 -7
14 Jordy?Mercer PIT 106 906 -10 -9 -1 0 -13
15 Amed?Rosario NYM 109 944 -16 -12 -1 -3 -20

UZR from Fangraphs is also an oft referenced metric and is the fielding component used in FG WAR, so for that reason it’s important to refer to this metric as well. Nick Ranks 2nd in UZR behind Trea Turner . Below are nuts and bolts explanations for anyone who is confused by the differences between UZR and DRS.

UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) explanation here with an important 2018 update HERE

The main difference between UZR and DRS is that UZR uses Play by Play data, and DRS by BIS uses video scouts to review each play and categorize. The importance of the 2018 UZR update is it has the effect of heavily regressing the data, so the range of results is greatly reduced. You’ll see far fewer “outlier” performances (either good or bad) in UZR.

There is one major issue between UZR and DRS however. UZR throws out all plays that include a shift, and the DBacks shift more than just about any team in the NL. However DRS accounts for shifts, and uses a scaled version of the responsibility zones, based on how the defense is shifted. So if Ahmed makes a good play while the defense is in a shift, he is still going to get credit for that in DRS, whereas with UZR, it’s completely ignored and treated as a non event. This is why the numbers looks so different. In the past we could compare UZR and DRS more easily, however with the 2018 adjustments to UZR, and the inclusion of shifts in DRS, it’s made comparisons more difficult. Because of the inclusion of shifts, and because I find the use of video scouts reviewing each play to be a major advantage, I like DRS better than UZR.

One final comment on FG Metric: They also include a “DEF” number , which is actually the default sort. This includes the positional adjustment, and the more innings you play, the more positional adjustment runs you get. DRS and UZR do not include the positional adjustment.


Inside Edge provides an interesting look at defense from a completely different perspective than DRS or UZR. Read about Inside Edge Here. From the “how to use inside edge” I think this best explains what the metric is trying to help us understand:

Inside Edge Fielding stats are useful in the sense that they allow you to get a sense of the type of fielder you’re dealing with. Some fielders are good at making the easy plays but don’t have range. Some players have tremendous range but fail to execute easy plays. Inside Edge lets you track that more easily than the high level stats which only show you run values.

Reviewing the table at THIS LINK we can see that Nick has the highest percentage of plays made that are categorized as “1-10% Chance” of making. Clicking on the column headers will allow you to sort each grouping and give you the following results for Nick:

Ahmed Inside Edge Fielding Ranks

% Chance Value Rank
% Chance Value Rank
1-10% 11.8% 1st
10-40% 33.3% 1st
40-60% 66.7% 2nd
60-90% 85.2% 4th
90-100% 98.4% 2nd

Remember what I said at the beginning of the article. He is making more of the tough plays. And he is making all the plays he should. He ranks 1st in Fielding Percentage, He ranks 2nd in the “Likely” plays, and he ranks first in 1-10% and 10-40% plays. He ranks first in DRS, which takes all of the above into account, and ranks 2nd in UZR, which doesn’t count the plays where the shift is on.

One last word on Nick’s development as a player. It’s often joked that a player didn’t hit enough to win a Gold Glove. Those types of sentiments are actually expressing the issue of being able to stay on the field, and the value of a good defensive player that can also hit and has an all around game. In the past Nick lost playing time not only to injury, but also due sub par offensive performance. But this year Ahmed is having his best offensive season and is not losing any playing time due to that issue. When we didn’t use to have the WAR metric, it was a little harder to quantify the value of playing a defense first position, playing it above average, while offering offense at the same time. But now that we do, we can see even more clearly the value of a player that is both hitting and playing great defense. With 3.1 WAR so far , Nick is having his career best season.

The season doesn’t end today. But if it did, the case for Nick Ahmed as the best shortstop in the NL is about as strong as can possibly be, and he should be considered the front runner for the Gold Glove.

Here are a few highlight videos to cap off this article. Enjoy, (once you get past the 15 second ads ;)

Quick Transfer and throw from deep in the hole

Diving in the hole behind 2b

Airborne !

Barehanded Gem

Strong throw