To no one’s surprise, the man who had the most starts at the position wound up winning the poll in a landslide. Nick Ahmed appeared in 589 games at the position over the course of the decade, more than double of the next player. Ahmed debuted with the Diamondbacks and Major League Baseball in the 2014 season, but has been the team’s primary shortstop every year since 2015.
Originally acquired as part of the Justin Upton trade, Ahmed emerged as the most valuable piece over that time span with 10.3 bWAR with the team. Most of his value comes off the strength of his glove, coming up at +77 runs above average with the glove on Baseball Reference. Only two other shortstops had higher totals this decade: Andrelton Simmons (198) and Brandon Crawford (78). Given that Crawford had been around for an additional three seasons, you can easily make the argument that Ahmed was the second best defensive shortstop in baseball over the past decade. In the past two seasons, Ahmed received Gold Glove honors with pretty much every defensive metric in the game painting him as one of the game’s elite defenders due to the combination of length, absurd body control, video game like arm, and very little wasted movements.
Here are some of the defensive highlights of his career:
Ahmed would win the shortstop job at the start of the 2015 season by default, the team having traded Didi Gregorius for Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba and Chris Owings coming off a major shoulder injury. Ahmed held the position on his own, but a very weak stick (69 OPS+) limited him to 2.3 bWAR. Ahmed immediately set a high bar with the glove, making difficult plays look routine and always seemed to come up with one big stop per game. Unfortunately, his season would end two weeks early as he hurt his hip and back making an amazing stop against the Dodgers. The hip would bother him for most of 2016, ultimately requiring a second surgery to repair and leaving many to wonder if his glove would recover.
When Ahmed returned from surgery in 2017, he wasn’t necessarily handed the shortstop position by new manager Torey Lovullo. The team ran a three-man rotation between him, Chris Owings, and Brandon Drury at the two middle infield spots. Ahmed started slow but started to figure things out and became a force against left-handed starters with a knack for timely hits. Unfortunately as Ahmed started to break through the rotation and establish himself as the everyday shortstop, he took a 99 MPH fastball from “control specialist” Trevor Rosenthal to the left hand. He was set to return around September, but unfortunately suffered another injury to the same wrist on a hit-by-pitch in his final AAA rehab game. The team would go on to the NLDS without Ahmed’s services and a young player by the name of Ketel Marte would emerge as an option at the position.
With a pair of seasons wiped out by injury, Ahmed’s long term future certainly was in doubt if the team had better options at the keystone. The team opened up room for him to be an everyday player by trading Drury to the Yankees as Spring Training opened up. Marte would move to the other side of the bag to 2B and the team opened up with Ahmed and Marte up the middle. Having finally established himself as the everyday shortstop and injury-free, Ahmed put up a .234/.290/.411 slash showcasing more pop and hanging in against righties better than in year’s past. He hit a career high 16 home runs and drove in 70, double his career high coming into the season. He also put up a career-best 21 runs above average and easily won his first gold glove. With a semi-respectable bat and elite defense in his profile, Ahmed finally established himself as the everyday SS going forward.
Not content for simply being good, Ahmed would improve further at the plate in 2019. Ahmed’s batting eye improved greatly this season, posting career bests across the board. His OPS+ improved 10 points from 83 to 93 (.254/.316/.437 slash) and put together an outstanding year on the bases despite only swiping 8/10 bases. His baserunning offset the negative value with the bat, making it the first season that Ahmed’s offensive value was in the green vs. the average player in his career. His glove was still as good as ever, even without as many signature plays in 2019 vs. year’s past, earning his second consecutive gold glove. In the past two seasons, Ahmed has combined for 7.7 bWAR and looks to perhaps cement himself as one of the best shortstops in franchise history (he and Stephen Drew are basically tied in wins above average).
Going into 2020, Ahmed will be on the wrong side of 30 and I expect some parts of his glove to slip but overall still be a strong defender. With Javier Baez, Trevor Story, and Paul Dejong offering tough competition, Ahmed will have to earn his Gold Glove against younger and more athletic players. At the plate, Ahmed should end up sitting either in the 7th or 8th spot in the order as a guy who might not necessarily be a productive hitter, but rather a relatively tough out. I’d expect in the area code of high 80s wRC+/OPS+ from Slick Nick and a few big hits along the way. Ahmed will then be ticketed for free agency following the season, although if he has a strong year could entice the front office to slap a qualifying offer to try to keep him around long enough to bridge the gap to Geraldo Perdomo.