Nick Ahmed Deserves to Start

(July 8, 2014 – Source: Ralph Freso/Getty Images North America)

There’s plenty of reasons why I trust Mike Hazen.

Mike Hazen has just one season under his belt as Diamondbacks General Manager. Just like Kevin Towers, Hazen made the playoffs in his first season. We’ve seen radical Diamondback first year improvements under new leadership before, but we haven’t seen sustained success since the Jerry Colangelo days.

While Josh Byrnes, Kevin Towers, and the painfully “old school” prehistoric duo of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart chipped away at D-Backs fans confidence, Hazen and co have rebuilt the trust. As someone who’s job ISNT to run a baseball team, I’m happy to have faith in someone, like Hazen, who’s job IS to run a baseball team. While the last two GM regimes felt the need to make radical moves early in their tenure, Mike Hazen made 1 major one (Walker and Marte for Segura and Haniger) and kept the long-term core together. And it worked.

At last, Mike Hazen has brought the new era of baseball to Arizona. The Diamondbacks organization finally has elite decision makers, but one decision they’ve made this Spring raised some concern.

Nick “Nine Hole” Ahmed is supposed to be the 2018 everyday shortstop, while Chris Owings will come off the bench in a super utility role.

All offseason, the belief has been that Ketel Marte would start at shortstop, thus creating a platoon of Brandon Drury and Chris Owings at 2B. The trickle down would arise a situation where Nick Ahmed, along with Daniel Descalso, would be firm bench players. Even after trading away Drury, Chris Owings seemed to be the new everyday 2B with Ahmed still in a defensive substitution bench role.

So we thought.

As I tried to fathom this decision, the first reasoning that can be concluded is that this is their best defensive lineup. Nick Ahmed is a legit gold glove caliber shortstop. Ketel Marte himself is a solid shortstop who has experience at 2nd base. Chris Owings between the three is the worst defender, but even then the versatile Owings’ best defensive position is 2nd base.

In 2017, Chris Owings had a positive 0.8 DRS (defensive runs saved) at 2B, the only position he had a positive rating in. Ketel Marte in roughly 507 innings at shortstop in 2017 had a 3.7 DRS rating. As Ahmed was hurt most of 2017, we can point to his 2015 season where he saved 16.7 runs in 1042 innings at shortstop. That was the 4th most in all of baseball and over double the runs saved than Marte would have had if played 1,000 innings of shortstop in 2017.

So, the defensive upgrade of Ahmed at short is massive. But just like you’re thinking right now, Nick Ahmed can’t hit and Chris Owings can. And my twitter following would agree.

So we thought.

Nick Ahmed is just as good of a hitter as Chris Owings.

At first, I wanted to see if the perceived offensive difference between Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed is large enough to justify that despite Ahmed’s elite glove, Owings should start instead. (Note, Ketel Marte will start everyday whether it be at SS or 2B). As I digged into the numbers, neither are potential offensive superstars, but Nick Ahmed might just be a better hitter than Chris Owings, despite the perception that Chris Owings is a much better.

Last season Nick Ahmed was limited to 53 games and Chris Owings 97 games. Here are the averages between the two players.

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Surprisingly, Nick Ahmed’s averages were closer to Owings’ than I thought they would be. While Owings is slightly better offensively in terms of batting average, slugging and isolated power, Ahmed is still the vastly better defender. So, which do you prefer? The glove or the bat?

It doesn’t matter, because the humidor decided for us. Let’s take a look at Ahmed’s and Owings’ 2017 home/road splits.

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The samples sizes between the two players is sizeable (Owings played 44 more games than Ahmed). Nick Ahmed oddly performed better on the road than at Chase Field in 2017, as for Chris Owings the home/road splits are massive. In last week’s article I wrote about the effects of Chase Field’s humidor. Studies have shown that home runs could drop 25-50% with the humidor. As I believe players like Paul Goldschmidt are more inclined to land on the 25% side of that scale, I believe Chris Owings will end up on the 50% side of the scale.

Between the new humidor installation and the fact that his brutal road stats came in a season where the baseball were allegedly “juiced”, 2018 Chris Owings could hang around Nick Ahmed’s boring stat lines if not dip below them. Putting Chris Owings in a role where he can fill in where needed as a super utility player and find a spot in the lineup in plus matchups is ideal. Chris Owings being in the super utility role is a wise decision.

Nick Ahmed on the other hand can build on his (by Nick Ahmed standards) promising 2017. Ahmed could be a .245-.260 hitter that has 15 homer, 10 steal potential. As Ahmed’s glove could potentially save 15 or more runs in a full season (16.7 DRS in 2015 in 116 games), Nick Ahmed deserves to be if not every day, most day shortstop. Chris Owings will still see some playing time all across the diamond as Jake Lamb hit .144 vs Lefties last season and the Diamondbacks outfield is historically injury prone.

Chris Owings is great in his super utility role. Nick Ahmed can be great as the D-Backs “most days” shortstop. Mike Hazen has just figured this out way before I did. And like I said to begin this article…

There’s plenty of reasons why I trust Mike Hazen.

By Todd Williams

For more Todd Williams content, follow him on Twitter @goldyhappens and hear him every week on the Fantasy Front Office.

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