Who Will Be American Association MVP? Candidate 2: Zach Nehrir, Cleburne Railroaders
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier continues looking at the likely American Association MVP candidates focusing on Cleburne Railroaders outfielder Zach Nehrir.
What Makes for an MVP?
There are clearly instances where you look at the numbers for a player and it is easy to see why they are the Most Valuable Player. Milwaukee Milkmen outfielder Adam Brett Walker set an American Association record for homeruns last season (33) while finishing with 101 RBI and a .320 batting average. While there were others who put together an MVP type season, Walker was crushing the ball and helped to lead his team to the playoffs. It was clearly his award to win from about June 15 on.
This season, there are several worthy candidates as well, but none looked like they will have the kind of eye-popping numbers that Walker produced last year. It may be that his season has diminished the value of others this year. For example, both Winnipeg Goldeyes 1B David Washington has 28 homers and could eclipse Walker’s homerun mark, but that may seem less significant this year simply because Walker broke the record last year. The value of the record may have been diminished a little.
Because of perception, the award could go to someone who is not leading in any particular category, but who has established himself as the very best player overall. A player whose numbers transcend across several different statistical categories to prove his overall value to his team. In that case, the MVP this season will be Cleburne Railroaders outfielder Zach Nehrir.
Zach Nehrir the Model of Consistency
Entering Monday’s action, Zach Nehrir is hitting .316, with 73 runs scored, 44 extra-base hits, 67 RBI, and a .394 on-base percentage. Nehrir has shown that he can hit for power, clubbing 16 homeruns this season, while also getting on base and stealing bases, recording 29 steals this year. His .942 OPS ranks in the top 25, and he is arguably the best outfielder in the American Association, recording a .981 fielding percentage with just four errors in 215 chances.
The season did not get off on the right foot for Nehrir. The outfielder started the season just six for his first 37, giving him a .162 batting average on May 22. When the calendar turned to June, Nehrir was at .233 after recording two hits in three of the previous four contests. He had five hitless games in the first month of the season, but has had just eight since.
After struggling in May, Nehrir hit .378 with three homers, 20 runs scored, and 18 RBI in 25 games in June. He walked 14 times, giving him a .460 OBP, and posted a .643 slugging percentage, producing 17 extra-base hits.
The early struggles for Nehrir had an effect on the team, as they were 4-15 on June 2. Nehrir had sat out the three games in Winnipeg to start June, then rejoined the team in Sioux Falls. The club went 11-14 over the last 25 games of the month, helping to get them out of the rut the team was in.
After winning the first game of July, Cleburne dropped the next four games before going on an eight-game winning streak. Nehrir had four multi-hit games during the winning streak, scoring 10 runs and driving in eight. In 25 games in July, the Railroaders were 14-11. Nehrir was a huge part of that, hitting .333 with 29 runs scored, nine home runs, and 30 RBI in 25 games. His 29 runs and 30 RBI led the club. Plus, he stole 11 bases. Manager Logan Watkins had added some key pieces around Nehrir, and the veteran was helping lift this team on his shoulders to drive them toward a playoff berth.
Cleburne is 11-7 through the first 18 games of August, still eight games under .500, but are hanging on to that final playoff spot in the East Division. Nehrir is only hitting .276 this month, but has scored 12 runs and has nine RBI to go along with a .371 on-base percentage.
Because of the struggles of this pitching staff through the first three months of the season, this team has had to outslug opponents to win games, and Nehrir has been a key reason why they are in the race. The outfielder was hitting .233 at the end of May, but has raised his batting average more than 80 points to .316. He has recorded at least one hit in 70 of 83 games and his 29 stolen bases is tied for third.
Some will argue that a club that has a losing record should not have the MVP, but Zach Nehrir kept this team alive when they could have phoned it in. By the middle of June, it looked like things were bleak, but some key additions have helped to bolster this lineup, and Nehrir has helped this team to outslug opponents on a regular basis. His team will need to win that final playoff spot for him to get serious consideration, but leading a team from oblivion into the playoffs is going to count for something with voters.
By Robert Pannier