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Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #25: Nick Ahmed

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Arizona’s defensive star took a step back from his stellar performance in 2020.

Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed (13) gloves the ball and gets San Francisco Giants left fielder Mike Yastrzemski (5) out after he tried to steal second base in the 1st inning of an MLB game at Oracle Park on Saturday, June 29, 2019, in San Franc Photo by Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.14
  • Age: 31
  • 2021 Stats: 129 G, 473 PA 5 HR, 38 RBI, .221/.280/.339 = .619 OPS (67 OPS+), 0.7 bWAR
  • 2021 Earnings: $7,875,000
  • Current Status: Under contract through 2024 - $7,875,000 (2022), $10,325,000 (2023) $18,250,000 (total)

Introduction

Nick Ahmed should need little or no introduction at this point. From the current roster, only David Peralta has a longer tenure with the Diamondbacks. Ahmed was acquired as a AA shortstop by the Diamondbacks in the deal which sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves back in January of 2013. Ahmed then made his MLB debut on 29 June 2014. Every season from 2015-2017, Ahmed entered Spring Training fighting for a spot on the roster. His glove and work ethic simply refused to be denied, and he won the position outright in each of those seasons, despite an anemic bat. From 2018 on, Ahmed’s place as the organization’s primary starting shortstop has been uncontested. Ahmed won the NL Gold Glove in 2018 and 2019, leading Ahmed to be ranked one of the top shortstops in the game from 2018-2020. That run now appears to be over.

2021 Review

There just isn’t much to say about Ahmed’s offensive “prowess” in 2021. After making noticeable, steady gains at the plate from 2016-2020, Ahmed’s bat fell off a cliff in 2021, dropping from a career high OPS+ of 97 in 2020, all the way down to 67 in 2021. Funnily, despite Ahmed’s dismal showing at the plate, offense league-wide was so far down in 2021, that Ahmed still managed to post positive offensive value. That came courtesy of his base running and positional adjustment. When it came to wins above average, Ahmed limped to a final tally of -0.9 WAA. About that base running though, here are a couple highlights of Ahmed using his speed to make things happen, even if on of them took a little help from Jarred Kelenic.

Unfortunately, Ahmed’s bat is not the only thing that took a step back in 2021. Ahmed’s previously stellar, highlight reel defense also lost some of its lustre. That isn’t to say, that Ahmed was anything less than a fine defender. He simply no longer was quite to leather wizard that the world had come to know for the previous decade. Ahmed’s four defensive runs saved in 1028 innings for 2021 was the same number as he posted in only 484.1 innings in 2020, and not even in the same galaxy as the 28 he saved in 2018.

Still, despite appearing to have lost a half-step of range, Ahmed managed a fairly impressive highlight reel for 2021. Enjoy this show from an “aging shortstop who just might be on his last leg”. Arizona is so spoiled by this man’s glovework. Most baseball fans don’t get to watch this sort of thing day-in and day-out. A ho-hum play by this man, even if he isn’t quite the defender he once was, is still a play that 90% of most shortstops don’t make. Here’s a bit of defense porn.

Sadly, Ahmed’s season was (once again) cut short by a late-season injury. Given the state of the 2021 Diamondbacks, it might have been for the best for Geraldo Perdomo to get those final games at shortstop in 2021. Nick Ahmed is not part of the next window of contention for this team. The young players getting some reps in a lost season likely serves this team better than another handful of defensive highlights in a 110-loss season.

2022 and Beyond

Nick Ahmed is still under contract for two more seasons at a total cost of just a hair over $18 million. There has been no shortage of calls from the fanbase for the team to do whatever it takes to dump Ahmed and his salary and move on. This seems unlikely. For one thing, while Geraldo Perdomo looked comfortable as a MLB shortstop at the close of the season, it should be kept in mind that this sample size was a whopping six starts (five finishes) in seven games in the final week of a lost season. This is almost as small as the sample-size gets. It remains to be seen if he can extend that hot week and how he handles it once pitchers begin to adapt to him and to throw him MLB-grade breaking pitches. Also, even if Perdomo is MLB-ready in every sense a player can be, Ahmed is the only other player in the organization that has any business spending time at short outside of an in-game emergency switch. Moving Ahmed would leave them exactly one (inexperienced) player dep at the position.

There is something to be said for having a savvy veteran to help groom young players. Perdomo is only 22 right now. He has plenty to learn. Ahmed may again find himself competing for the starting role in 2022. If it comes to pass that Perdomo beats him out, it will not be due to lack of effort. Additionally, Ahmed still does well against left-handed pitching. Perdomo is going to need some days off once in a while. Giving Ahmed a start here and there against some key left-handed starters would not be the worst way for Perdomo to get time off. In fact, if Ahmed is used more strategically and slides into the role of backup shortstop and all-around mentor, Ahmed’s overall end-of-year value might actually increase, as he will be shielded from most of the situations which wind up eventually tanking his overall value. Lastly, even if the team did move Ahmed, they would be hard-pressed to replace his value to the team for the same price tag.

Expect Ahmed to play the entire 2022 season in a Diamondbacks jersey. 2023 may bring a different story, but that is another full year of play away.