Pick up the Slack: Breaking down the AL MVP debate, new playoff format

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Getting lost in the debate over who deserves to win the AL Most Valuable Player award, Los Angeles of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout or Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera, is that both players do.

Match their stats up against past MVPs and they compare very favorably to most.

Unfortunately, just like in political debates, name-calling and derisive dismissal of opposing arguments have arisen in the discussion.

Trout hit .326 with an on-base percentage of .399 and slugging percentage of .564 with 27 doubles, eight triples and 30 homers.

He drove in 83 runs and scored 129, stole 49 bases and played excellent defense, all despite being in the minors the first month of the season.

The Angels were 6-14 when he was called up and went 83-59 after.

Cabrera has also been a dynamic force on offense for the Tigers, becoming the first player to hit for the triple crown since 1967 by leading the AL in batting (.330), home runs (44) and RBIs (139).

He also hit 40 doubles and played in 161 games while surviving the season defensively at third after a rough stint in previous attempts with the Tigers to accommodate Prince Fielder.

Even a bigger argument for Cabrera than the triple crown, though, seems to be that Detroit won the AL Central and is heading to the playoffs, while the Angels are not after placing third in the AL West, despite Los Angeles winning one more game than Detroit.

While determining how much team success should factor into an individual’s “value” has always been a contentious issue, most of the time voters are reluctant to give the award to a player whose team didn’t make the playoffs.

Should that be the case and an argument for Cabrera over Trout? Probably not, given that Trout’s Angels won one more game.

However, despite the fact that Los Angeles was spinning its wheels before Trout was called up, it had a much more talented roster to work with, while Cabrera had to shoulder the load on a weaker team.

Plus, while a star on a last-place team might mean the difference between 55 and 67 wins, and a star on a first-place team might mean the difference between 82 and 87 wins, it’s still important for those wins to mean something, right?

How much should the fact Cabrera is the first player to win the triple crown in 45 years matter?

Not that much, given that they are three arbitrarily chosen stats.

If Cabrera had hit five more homers, but in turn had 10 less singles because of it and didn’t win the batting title, he probably would have less of a case to win the award regardless of having produced more.

The triple crown race is fun and having a winner has become rare, but batting average and RBIs shouldn’t be the be all, end all, because someone decided along the way to come up with a mythical triple crown award.

So who should win?

Despite Cabrera’s surge down the stretch, I’d give my vote to Trout if I had one.

I would take Cabrera offensively over Trout, slightly, even though Trout has excellent power to go with a speed game that is light years beyond Cabrera’s.

But given the prowess of Trout defensively, an aspect often overlooked in MVP voting, and the fact he had to square off against much tougher division competition while Cabrera feasted on Kansas City, Minnesota and Cleveland, he gets the nod.


New playoff format

There were some mixed reviews when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig decided to add a second wildcard team in each league at the start of the season.

The main argument against was that the two wildcard teams would have to square off in a one-game winner-take-all playoff, meaning two teams would play 162 games to make the playoffs, play one game, then be knocked out.

Of course, the main opposing view was that this would in turn force teams to be much more aggressive in trying to win their divisions, unlike in the past when settling for the wildcard meant no discernible disadvantage than an extra road game.

One season in, the format appears to be a stroke of genius, with the stretch run of the regular season providing great division races in the American League East and West to go with chases for both league’s second wildcard.

On top of that, Friday will feature back-to-back sudden death play-in games, the type of pressure-cooker that has produced some of the most memorable moments in baseball history.