ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed’s rise pacing team in pennant race

Aug 1, 2018, 11:22 AM

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Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed has been known as one of the most slick fielding infielders since arriving to the big leagues.

His ability to make the routine and extraordinary plays has been a pitcher’s dream, and D-backs pitchers have been the beneficiaries since 2014.

Ahmed’s glaring weakness was at the plate. If he was going to become an everyday player, Ahmed needed to make some adjustments.

A career .230 hitter with a .270 on-base percentage is well below league average, and it forced the D-backs to decide if he warranted playing time due to his minimal production in the batter’s box.

Tuesday night against the Rangers, Ahmed put it all together, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a two-run double. He also made two great defensive plays in support of Zack Godley, diving to his left to take away a hit in the second inning and leaping to snare a line drive in the seventh inning.

“I haven’t played to the capabilities that I know I’m able to the first couple of years here,” Ahmed said after Tuesday’s game. “I’ve started to put things together and get consistent and really have a good idea of myself and what I’m trying to do.”

Prior to a season-ending hand injury in 2017, Ahmed made strides at the plate with a career high in batting average and on-base percentage. He’s carried the success from last season into the 2018 season and has excelled at hitting for power.

Ahmed enters the month of August with 84 hits on the season; 41 of them have gone for extra bases. His slugging percentage is a respectable .450, and he has provided great at-bats against left-handed pitchers all season.

He’s hit .273 against lefties in 2018 and has slugged .529 against southpaws. Ahmed’s been used at the top of the order against left-handed starters for the majority of the season, but with the addition of Eduardo Escobar he will more than likely remain near the bottom of the order where he can provide thump and lengthen the lineup.

Ahmed’s increase in power production could be tied to a recent advancement in the game. Ahmed’s launch angle is a career high 11.7 degrees, and his hard hit percentage is just under 30, according to Baseball Savant. Ahmed’s previous career high in launch angle was 10.4 degrees in 2015 and was below 10 in the 2016-17 seasons. If these changes are intentional or coincidental remains to be seen, but regardless it’s improved his offensive production and evolved him into a formidable two-way player.

It’s not just his offense that has improved. In his age 28 season, Ahmed has managed to become even better on defense.

Ahmed leads all shortstops in defensive runs saved at 13 and is tied for fifth in Major League Baseball in defensive WAR at 1.8, the highest among National League shortstops, according to Baseball Reference.

His emergence in 2018 has been crucial for the D-backs. Ahmed has the fourth highest WAR on the team at 2.4 behind only Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin and Paul Goldschmidt.

More importantly to a team with a bit of a cloudy future, Ahmed is under team control through the 2020 season, giving the D-backs a cheap, controllable player in his prime that can impact a team that hopes to remain in contention for the foreseeable future.

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