Nick Ahmed has never been in the big leagues because of his bat. Among 243 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances spanning from the All-Star break in 2016 to the All-Star break in 2019, his wRC+ of 80 ranked 227th. His glove is what kept him in big league lineups, as his total defensive value in that time ranked 30th among that group.
Last season he reached a career high in games and plate appearances being in the role of the Diamondbacks primary shortstop. Thanks to his career-high 84 wRC+, he showed that he could be a serviceable, but rather unspectacular player at the big league level, putting up 1.7 fWAR in a full-season, another career-high.
It was the same story in the first half of 2019. Once again in the role of the Diamondbacks starting shortstop, he hit his way to an 86 wRC+, showing an aggressive profile with decent contact skills and little power at the plate. He struggled to consistently make hard contact and hit the ball into the ground at a non-ideal level.
Jump forward to where we are now, the second half. Nick Ahmed is now hitting better than he ever has. His contact rate is now considerably above-average, he’s walking at an above-average rate, and perhaps most surprisingly, he’s hitting for power.
There have been 113 hitters to qualify in both the first and second half this season, Ahmed being one. Only two of those hitters (Jorge Soler and Christian Walker) have increased their walk-percentage more than him. Only two hitters have since larger decreases in their strikeout-percentage (Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber).
Only Soler has improved upon his strikeout and walk numbers in the second half more than Ahmed. As for power, only 18 of those hitters have seen larger increases in their ISO’s. Of those 18 hitters, the only one with a larger decrease in K-BB-rate is once again, Soler.
In terms of power and plate skills, Ahmed surely looks like one of the most improved hitters so far in the second half.
A big factor in Ahmed’s recent improvements has been his ability to be able to produce hard-contact on a more consistent basis. Before last June, the highest barrel-percentage he posted in a month was 7.8 percent in April of 2018, which he ended up topping that month (7.9 percent). Then in July, he upped his barrel-percentage to 8.8 percent. So far in August, he’s almost doubled his previous high for a month, as his rate for the month currently stands at 16.3 percent.
The more interesting part has been Ahmed’s improvement on a certain type of pitch. Before July of this season, Ahmed had put 381 breaking pitches into play throughout his whole career. Only nine of those were classified as barrels, a mere 2.4 percent. Since July 1st, he’s put 29 breaking pitches into play. Six of those have been barrels, a noticeably improved rate of 20.7 percent. In August, four of the ten breaking pitches he’s put into play have been barrels, two home runs, a triple, and a double.
Part of the increase in power could just simply be Ahmed hunting the right more pitches more often, while the improvements in plate skills could be him laying off of bad ones more often. He’s seen a large dip in his rate of swinging at pitches outside the zone, perhaps aiding the strides he’s made in his walk and strikeout numbers.
It’s extremely unlikely that Nick Ahmed hits at the level he’s been hitting at in the second-half (136 wRC+) for an extended period of time, but maybe this stretch could signify that he’s more than what he hit for before this (86 wRC+). His true-talent level could lie somewhere in the middle, but with his glove, the outlook on his value turns into something way better if he can manage to hit somewhere around a 100 to 110 wRC+.