Hopeful Thinking: What MLB The Show 20’s Franchise Mode Still Needs, Now or Later
This week MLB The Show 20’s open beta begins, and it’ll be first chance the community has to dive into the gameplay for this year’s upcoming release in March, and while there have been some hints of what’s in-store for The Show 20, there have not been any details revealed about franchise mode. While franchise mode details are normally something San Diego Studios reveal closer to the release date, now may be the time to start reviewing our wishlists for what we hope to see. First, it’s important to understand that decisions on any game mode or other aspect of an upcoming release are made months before a game’s release date. This is merely an activity of what I am hoping we’ll see in the MLB The Show’s franchise mode, if not this year, then in the near future in either a patch or future edition of the game. Here is a list of items I feel are both reasonable improvements to expect from San Diego Studios as well as items that would greatly enhance the franchise mode experience. Positional Learning Positional learning might be my #1 wish for MLB The Show 20. I get it that a 1B shouldn’t just be able to be moved to CF or SS and play even remotely well, but at the same time, there’s no reason a player who is a stellar CF couldn’t play a corner outfield position. There’s no reason why an aging SS couldn’t move to 3B and still be at least above average. There’s no reason a draftee who is only a LF could never learn how to play RF. What about moving an aging star catcher to somewhere like 1B to get him more rest and to extend his career? We see these sorts of moves all of the time in MLB, but nothing organically happens like this in The Show. Cat and Mouse Baserunning The baserunning relationship between a pitcher and runner is predictable and stale in this series, and it might be the second worst experience behind playing defense. Baserunning should be completely organic in that if I want to take a 2 step lead, plus a few more inches, I should be able to without taking a 3rd step. I should have a series of real pickoff moves that could even be unique for the elite pickoff artists. Here is a really nice article that talks about the basics of how to properly take a lead off of each base. I’d love to see SDS incorporate this into their baserunning experience. AI Overuse of Contact Swings When the AI gets to 2 strikes, they use the contact swing. I honestly think this might happen every single time. The issues that this presents are that it’s very difficult to get a swinging third strike without massive slider adjustments. Without adjustments, you’ll have a severe lack of swings and misses, a huge increase to foul ball percentages, a lack of Ks while pitching, and too many double plays for both teams. The other issue is an unrealistic uptick in the number of hits a pitcher gets. These are all related to the overuse of the contact swing mechanism, and it works the same for the user too. Bunting If there’s ever evidence of Diamond Dynasty calling the shots on how this game is now developed, it’s bunting. It’s been such a cheesy exploit online, that the functional use of a simple sacrifice bunt from even a good bunter has been rendered completely null and void. This should make anyone hesitate in choosing an NL team as you’ll see your pitchers bunt into more double plays than they’ll earn sacrifice bunts. I can understand why this was adjusted for online play, but it has no functional place working like this in an offline franchise mode. Lefty/Righty Spilts for Pitchers Simply put, we have these ratings for hitters, but still don’t for pitchers. Honorable mention is to expand on the stat tracking involved in splits like this as well and have the AI manage their roster accordingly. We hear all about the history of a pitcher vs a hitter in actual gameplay, so let me see ahead of time if a guy is 2 for 28 against an upcoming starter; perhaps that’s a good day to give the player a rest. Dynamic Catchers Make catchers more unique from one another. Blocking and arm matter right now in The Show, but what about pitch-framing, and managing a pitching staff? Similar to how the game has personality quirks, catchers–of all positions–should be given a bump in the influence they have in the game. This will also make them a more valuable roster piece (even in online modes) as you may want to focus on a more defensive, game-manager-style catcher than one who can just rake. Player Personalities Expanding from the catchers mentioned above, player personalities should matter more. Player mentors could extend the career of some aging veterans as they find renewed value in helping the young players on your roster reach their potential faster or learn a new position. Players with a championship ring could help a team stay focused and relaxed during a deep playoff run. Player’s with a strong work ethic could learn a (reasonable) new position, such as a SS moving to 3B. The player quirks were a nice start to a setup like this, but it’s already overdue on an expansion. More AI Transactions The AI does not sign free agents during the regular season. The AI seems to only call up players when there’s an injury to be filled, and will rarely–if ever–call a player up strictly based on performance. Those are all absurd omissions and a massive hits to realism. The trade AI is always mentioned to having received annual updates to their trade logic, and that’s truly great, but what about the rest of the AI’s transactional management? Separate Fatigue and Durability Positional players do not need multiple off-days in a calendar week, and some players don’t need more than a handful of days off throughout the entire season. Of course, there are rare Iron Men who can play all 162 games, and while catchers definitely need time off each week, the rest of the positional players tire far too quickly in the MLB The Show series. Part of the issue is that fatigue and durability are tied together in one rating, so if a player has had a string of injuries in their career, they suddenly won’t be able to regularly play 5 games in a week with ample rest. Additionally, the injury slider should be multifaceted in that you can adjust both the frequency and severity of injuries in your league. While we’re talking about injuries, let’s see nagging injuries and a dynamic injury history ala the NBA 2K series. Rainouts/Delays Having weather in the game is just a tease until it’s expanded out more to include actual rain delays and rainouts. This creates a huge development/programming issue in that the game would need to create doubleheaders, and I remember this being a big undertaking for the Out of the Park Baseball series. However, the OOTP team managed to get it done, and it works as intended. Improve Sim Stats, Including Defensive Metrics In baseball more than any other sport, getting the statistics right is vitally important. Luckily the game’s sim engine can be manipulated a bit through certain sliders, but out of the box, this game has some major issues with how the sim engine handles a pitching staff. Too many complete games, too many RP appearances going above 1.0 innings pitched, and setup men being utilized sometimes less than half the amount of lesser pitchers in the bullpen. Situational pitching is barely present in both head-to-head games as well as in the simulations. As far as defensive metrics, we need more. Defensive metrics are THE hardest stat to accurately track in real life, but in a video game it’s much more manageable. Online Leagues The argument we hear over and over again is how head-to-head online gaming is what most people play, yet we haven’t seen online leagues be a feature in this series since the 2018 edition. No more excuses–bring back online leagues, and make them a 1:1 match of the offline franchise mode with options to customize the details like season length, etc. Honorable Mention – Expansion Draft, Team Creator Tool from Diamond Dynasty I didn’t officially add this one to my list because while I too think it would be a great edition, I respect that it’s a huge undertaking for SDS. There are many other areas the game would benefit from before getting to this level of enhancement, and while it’s not impossible to do both (see NBA 2K), I’m willing to wait until it can be done right as not even NBA 2K has ironed out all of the kinks. Honorable Mention – Expanded Rule-4 (Amateur) Draft Expanding the amateur draft would be another large undertaking as this would require more minor league levels to accommodate the influx of new players being added to the universe. I’d take it farther and even include a playable college feeder league which could consist of regional teams, similar to how the game handles the Prospect Showcase in Road to the Show. As mentioned, will we see all of these changes in MLB The Show 20? Absolutely not, and that’s 100% understandable. The Show series continues to produce a great game, even being named the Sports Game of the Year for 2019 by Operation Sports, but by working together, we in the sim community can do our best to bring these franchise elements to light so that they hopefully get the attention they deserve.