We’ve now had a few months with MLB The Show 20, and with the MLB season (allegedly) getting under way soon, it’s time to see how MLBTS’s franchise mode has held up. Here are are the top areas I’d like to see franchise mode improved as San Diego Studios takes The Show to the PlayStation 5 in 2021.
Balls hit into corners need to be far more difficult to field cleanly. In real life, those balls oftentimes get stuck in some difficult situations, and make stand-up doubles a frequent occurrence versus a close play requiring a slide because the OF fielded the ball perfectly with omnipotent anticipation.
Balls hit up the line that role to the corner need to be troubling balls and difficult to pick up. We see these plays in real baseball where the baserunner easily gets into 2B for a stand-up double. As it is now, fielders are omnipotent and get the ball back into 2B so quickly, that even fast baserunners are having to slide to barely beat the through. This is different from OF runner speed or anything like that; It’s a case in which fielders just need to take a bit more time picking up balls and getting them back in cleanly. Those balls sometimes get wedged underneath the wall padding, or they roll into the area where the bat boy/girl is sitting. In the game now, every OF basically has a Nostradamus-like ability to know exactly where the ball is going to bounce off the wall. The balls are usually still well-in-play when they unquestionably should have continued angling into a corner. This should include things like a fielder slipping occasionally as well.
Baserunning Interface vs Pitcher
This is perhaps the element of baseball that is most underdeveloped in this game. Think about how many actions you can truly do as a baserunner or pitcher in these real-life situations. As a baserunner in MLBTS, all you can do is step left, or step right. For the in-game pitcher, it’s the ability to look over, make a pickoff attempt, or step off the rubber. Those are all realistic events, but the way in which they are handled are robotic, repetitive, not fun, and need to be revamped. The baserunner vs pitcher interaction needs to be completely organic in that I can take the precise lead I want as a baserunner, and I would have a surplus of varying moves and strategies I can use as a pitcher to counter them.
Catcher framing/Positional Wear and Tear
Having catchers hold varying values in regards to pitch framing would add a lot of value to an otherwise aging and old catcher. Perhaps a veteran catcher who is good with a pitching staff would allow for a larger sweet spot in meter pitching, as just one example.
Catchers should break down differently than someone who plays 1B their entire career. NBA 2K handles injuries by tracking wear and tear and general player breakdown over the course of a player’s career, and a baseball game should be doing the exact same thing, especially for catchers, pitchers, and highly-active positions such as SS and CF. To counterbalance this, veteran players should add in other valuable quirks such as being team leaders/captains, or being able to “know” their ballpark better and not have as many issues fielding balls that are hit into the corner, like mentioned above.
The AI just isn’t very smart when it comes to fielding AI. Too many times have I seen AI players not hitting cutoff men in the appropriate places, cutoff men being lined up in completely the wrong place, or throwing home with zero chance to get an out and allowing other baserunners to take an extra base. I would have no issue if those things happened to inexperienced players or players who would have a “situational awareness” rating or something like that, but it is an gameplay problem when it’s the norm. By allowing variety based on experience and expertise, the game could counterbalance keeping a worn-down veteran on the roster versus just having all prospects all of the time.
These are a nasty part of baseball, but they happen…and they are a big deal. When I see a pitcher hit in-game, I don’t even bat an eye as I know the player is going to be fine, no matter the cut scene I’m shown. This should be a big deal when it happens in a game. It should be very rare, it shouldn’t be done with any sort of humor attached, and it should almost always lead to an extensive injury.
This is by-far the most important area in which the game’s roster management, and to an extent gameplay, needs to improve for MLB The Show 21. The AI teams do not utilize their best bullpen arms properly, and you’ll see some of their worst bullpen pitchers accumulating twice as many innings pitched as a team’s setup RPs. The game seemingly only uses setup guys in a game they are leading which is not in-line with modern MLB as oftentimes these pitchers are used in critical situations when the team is either ahead, tied, or behind. The bullpen AI in simulated games does the exact same thing, and pitchers in the LR role will accumulate enough IPs to be considered a 6th SP. It’s a real eyesore for a game as popular as MLBTS. The game does a good job in handling closers, but it really misses the mark when it comes to the high-end bullpen arms that the AI teams should be utilizing in key situations.
Signing FAs During Season
For years now, the AI teams will never sign a FA during the actual season. I get that most transactions happen during the offseason, but it’s such an odd oversight by SDS. Whatever the equivalent to this would be for Diamond Dynasty, they’d have never let it carry on this long.
Improved Trade AI
This is always a tough one for any game as we all have our preconceived notions about what a good trade is. This game’s trade engine has improved a lot over the years, but the issue I still see is that the game doesn’t understand the value in a controllable asset. It sees ratings, it sees age, but there’s something very important about that 6 year window a team has control over a player, especially those pre-arbitration and arbitration years where a solid player can be held onto at a discounted rate.
This might be my top request for MLB The Show. There’s no reason why a guy who can play CF isn’t able to play LF or RF. Should they have a bit of a learning curve? Sure. But over time, that player should be able to develop a familiarity for that new position. I’m not asking to move Miguel Cabrera to SS or CF, but we do see players move from SS to 3B and C move to 1B all of the time. As it stands now, that player will be forever lost at their new position. This should also apply to pitchers being able to switch between SP and RP in certain situations, and all of this positional learning should be something that the AI handles intelligently as well.
International Free Agents
This is a huge part of baseball that is not in the game. There are numerous superstar MLBers over the years who’ve joined via the international free agency period, and it’s something we should see at least on a smaller scale in MLB The Show.
The quirks in this game were a welcomed concept, and they had some variety to players and unique situations in a game. But they seem to now be an afterthought as a lot of them don’t make much sense. How is a player always someone who plays better on the road? Shouldn’t that change year-to-year? Why can’t players ever develop new quirks? Unless this concept can be expanded upon and handled properly, similar to how NBA 2K handles their player badges, it really should just be scrapped.
Scouting is pretty bad in this game, and while it might not need to be something overly involved in a console baseball game, we should never be seeing a handful of stud draftees suddenly show up at the start of a draft whom you know nothing about. I get that my scouts never got around to “discovering” them, but how on earth is that even remotely realistic for a player worthy of a first or even second round pick?
Coaches shouldn’t impact an entire team negatively the same way. Each player should generate a unique relationship with each coach on a staff. The AI should also look to adjust their staff more so than just during the offseason. This is one of the many areas SDS should be looking to Out of the Park Development’s Out of the Park Baseball for inspiration.
Deeper Minor Leagues
This seems to be a very popular request among the MLB The Show fan base. Having a deeper minor league system would allow for the game to expand on the draft and even allow for things like a more realistic injury system as you’d have the resources (and better AI roster management) to keep proper depth. The injury slider at 5 (default) doesn’t produce anywhere near the realistic number of injuries you’d see in a MLB season, but when you put that slider up to where it needs to be (7 or 8), you’ll end up running out of SS, for example, to field your AAA and AA teams properly.
Stadium Creator/Fictional MLB Stadiums
The addition of a psuedo-relocation team in franchise mode was a welcomed addition, but like most of us feared with the release of this news, it was half-baked. It might be a lot to ask for a full stadium creation tool, but SDS has built some really beautiful fictional minor league stadiums, and they should do at least the same for a handful of MLB-style stadiums for people to choose as options. If they went further, it could be a system where you could select a certain outfield look from a selection of 5-10 different styles, and do the same for the club seats behind home plate, the backdrop in the OF to set your city’s location accurately, and so on.
Stats are huge in baseball, and more than any other major sport, it’s a game that must allow for stats to be showcased. The ironic part is that MLB The Show has sensitive enough sliders and settings that you can produce realistic output, so SDS shouldn’t worry about their game being exposed by deeper stats. Advanced stats are a huge part of baseball today, and the game would benefit from seeing things such as pitcher vs hitter matchup stats (outside of an actual game this time), career splits, advanced fielding metrics, and even some basic stats that are inexcusable missing such as catcher throw outs.
Commentary and Presentation
Similar to trade AI, this is always a difficult game element to get done right for a sports title. Having said that, the commentary is bland and repetitive, and the secondary announcers do absolutely nothing for the game. Dan Plesac and Mark DeRosa sound exactly alike, and I’d like to see MLBTS establish more diversity on a number of levels. Heidi Watney’s inclusion in the game has been dreadful, and it’s unfortunate because I’ve heard she’s a great reporter (I don’t have cable, sorry!).
MLB The Show has a framework for solid commentary that could work, but it needs to be more numbers-driven. Just how the game can grab names from a recorded database, the game should be pulling far more information about team stats, standings, developing news stories around the league, and so on. Get rid of all canned comments such as “He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year” (even though he has 3 more years of team control). Talk about a player’s stats from last year, but something specific such as his strikeout % going up or down.
Dynamic Difficulty 2.0
Dynamic Difficulty was a brilliant concept, but it must include far more than just OPS. Dynamic Difficulty needs to be expanded to include things like BABIP, swing and miss %, foul ball percentages, strike to ball ratios, and much more.
Online Franchise Mode
I’m glad they at least got it back in the game this year, but it needs a lot before it’s something worth investing time into. Priority number one for SDS should be getting carryover saves to work in an online league, and fully fleshing out the mode so that it’s identical to its offline version.