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Pittsburgh Pirates Hot Stove Target Profile: Nick Ahmed

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are reportedly interested in the Arizona SS

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

According to report from DK Pittsburgh Sports’ John Perrotto, the Pittsburgh Pirates are interested in shortstop Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Winter Meetings just started, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have already been linked to a player who could more than fill a need. John Perrotto first reported that the club is interested in trading for shortstop Nick Ahmed:

Let’s dive right in.

Profile And Performance

The right-handed hitting Ahmed will be 29 in March of next year and has been in the majors since 2014. Since then he has accumulated 1,584 plate appearances across 455 career games. He has a bit of a checkered injury history which limited him in 2016-2017. Fully healthy in 2018, Ahmed rebounded to play in 153 games last season and he was awarded the Gold Glove award at short for his efforts.

2018 also saw a significant uptick in offensive production. Prior to then, Ahmed had a total of 20 home runs and 36 doubles in the previous four seasons. 2018 saw 16 home runs and 33 doubles from him despite a .265 BABIP.

Though he has never posted an on base percentage higher than .298 in any season, Ahmed’s 2018 offensive peripherals show a hitter that may be poised for further breakout when compared to his contemporaries and the majors in general:

NIck Ahmed 2018 Peripherals

2018 Soft % Hard % SwStr% FB% GB% HR/FB%
2018 Soft % Hard % SwStr% FB% GB% HR/FB%
Ahmed 17.2 39.2 11.7 34.7 40.8 11.3
MLB-SS 19.1 33.4 10.6 35.0 43.2 10.9
MLB-ALL 18.1 35.3 10.7 35.4 43.2 12.7

Perhaps Ahmed is the poster child for those BABIP-truthers out there who will automatically point to it to explain away bad numbers. I normally like to point out that it’s not just BABIP that tells the tale but with Ahmed.....that might hold true. That hard contact figure in particular is hard to dismiss.

Of course, that 39.2 percent figure represents a considerable peak as Ahmed has never posted a hard rate higher than 32 percent previously. Similarly, his ability to keep the ball off of the carpet has seemingly manifested itself out of thin air. Over the previous three seasons, that ground ball rate came in at 47.1 percent.

Still, a breakout is a breakout even if some of the characteristics of said breakout are a bit off putting. The peripherals definitively suggest that Ahmed can still improve at the plate.

Defensively, he’s a stud. +21 in DRS in 2018 (+58 for his career), a UZR/150 of 5.5 (4.5 lifetime)...yes, he’s good with the glove. Let’s leave it at that.

Career-To-Date

The Case For

  • The hidden benefits of a defensively capable shortstop could be more significant to the Pittsburgh Pirates than other clubs. While talented, the club’s starting rotation and bullpen would certainly benefit from better defense behind them than they received last year.
  • All of the peripherals suggest that Ahmed’s breakout can be sustainable. Out of them all, put the most stock in that hard-hit rate. Nearly a full six percentage points better than the MLB shortstop rate, that contact has unlocked new levels of productivity for Ahmed.
  • Ahmed has two years of arbitration control remaining. If we project that Cole Tucker might be ready around that same timeframe, Ahmed would represent a placeholder with much more offensive potential than, say, Kevin Newman.

The Case Against

  • If you’d like to poke holes in his breakout being legit, you won’t have to look far for ammo. Here’s something to get you started: among the 21 shortstops with at least 10 home runs in 2018, Ahmed ranked dead last in average exit velocity — 99.3 mph — on dingers. While that does not cheapen them all that much, it is worth noting.
  • A sub-.300 on base percentage is a black mark on all hitters, yet it is infinitely easier to live with when attached to someone with established 30+ home run potential (think Pedro Alvarez in 2013) than when it is an albatross around a defensive-minded shortstop with “one good season.”

What It Might Take

If anyone out there can figure out the direction the Diamondbacks are taking right now, please let us know.

Maybe it’s just me, but when a club trades its superstar and is reportedly “open” to listening to offers on other stars...I start to get the feeling that they are in fact rebuilding. But that’s just me.

In this way, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what kind of return can get a deal done for Ahmed. One would think that, if we take Rosenthal’s tweet at face value, Arizona would want major league or very near major league ready talent coming back. With needs in their bullpen and rotation, might they be interested in a package of Nick Kingham or Ivan Nova + prospects? With so-so outfield depth in their pipeline, might they take a Jason Martin-type?

Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible. So feel free to come up with your own package that might get Ahmed. Chances are, if a trade were to be consummated, everyone would be dead wrong.

Conclusions

If the Pittsburgh Pirates prioritize shortstop ahead of all of the team’s other needs, Nick Ahmed would represent an intriguing answer: a defensive-minded glove with some serious plate potential. Rather than go for a Jose Iglesias type with little to no offense, the club could simultaneously bet on upside while taking on a proven commodity.