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March 12, 2013

Painting the Black

Reality Show

by R.J. Anderson

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MLB The Show 13's tagline boasts that the game is, "So real it's unreal." How real is it? So real Aaron Hill holds his hands at helmet-level; so real Luke Scott resembles a Civil War re-enactor; so real Nike's swoosh receives prominent placement on players' undershirts (for realism's sake, of course); and so real that, at its best, it blurs the line between playing and watching a game. 

Part of The Show's charm is capturing nuance. While replicating every player's stance and delivery is an impossible task, The Show does get many right. Anthony Rizzo holds his bat at his belly and wiggles it around while Fernando Rodney shows a minimal leg lift before delivering the ball. There's an added layer of realism involved as pitchers pronate their arms and batters roll their wrists during swings; necessary actions in real life yet ignorable within the friendly confines of a game. Replay functions have been in sports video games for years now to varying degrees of use. The Show gives you reason to examine the finer details—from pitch grips to crow hops—because the level of care is evident. 

The dedication to realism goes beyond cosmetics. MLB.com provided the developers with real-world spray charts. The result is a gameplay experience that sees extreme pull hitters treated with virtual shifts. You're still not managing against Joe Maddon here, but it's one of those things that's easy to see and easier to overlook. Then there's the franchise mode. The addition of a top-50 prospect icon is a nice touch, though the real upgrades are in the form of revamped postseason and scouting experiences. Thanks to new sounds and sights the postseason feels like the postseason. 

Scouting has undertaken a different feel as well. You get to hire, fire, and assign scouts based on different criteria. Every team has a list of the upcoming drafts' blue chippers available to them, but reports on other players are only available with careful scouting. There's even the ability to craft an organizational philosophy available here, as you can tell your scouts which attributes to focus on. This means disgruntled Twins fans can have their virtual scouting staff eschew command for movement or velocity in their pitchers. It's a nice touch, and a step in the right direction toward recognizing the importance of scouts in any organization.

There are two more features worth mentioning. One is The Show Live, which promises up-to-date rosters and the ability to play any regular season matchup. The other is how players' Twitter feeds are incorporated into the game, either on a team-level or on each player card. Right now it seems to be hit or miss on whether players' feeds are included. David Price's, for instance, is in there, but Jose Molina's is not. It's unclear whether the game will continue to add feeds as the season winds on or whether the focus is on the top players (or tweeters) rather than depth. 

Yet in a sea of realism the unrealistic aspects stick out like navigational buoys. The game's commentary crew, now with Steve Lyons instead of series staple Dave Campbell, provides wanting analysis and insight. There are amusing moments on occasion (Matt Vasgersian saying "Jeff Francoeur draws a rare walk," for instance) but too often the commentary is stifled or nonexistent. Perhaps part of the problem stems from the group not being a true-to-life combination. Or maybe it has to do with the recording or writing process itself. Whatever the cause, it's hard to consider the announcing a plus.

Likewise the ratings are at best inconsistent and at worst a mess. Adrian Beltre is rated as the best defensive big-league third baseman in the game. Fair. Michael Young is the second-best. Foul. Similar  moments of cognitive dissonance are easy to spot, even with things less difficult to quantify than defense—like clutchness. Somehow Eduardo Nunez receives a higher clutch score than Derek Jeter and many star-quality players; Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp aren't considered good basestealers; and Jason Bourgeois has a higher overall rating than Matt Joyce. This is nitpicking but these ratings matter. There is a human element involved, of course, however the ratings play into the game's probabilities. Besides, it's hard to take the game's commitment to realism seriously when it holds such unrealistic opinions of players' attributes. 

Even with some blemishes The Show is a worthy purchase that shows creativity in how it adheres to realism. The question facing the developers heading forward is how far into Wonkland they are willing to travel. Will they build upon the idea of managing scouts and allow you to build a cabal of quants? Will they continue with the spray-chart data and implement things like platoon and batted-ball splits? And what about using actual stats to determine how the virtual skippers manage or how pitchers and hitters attack at-bats? There's a whole world of possibilities out there. The Show just has to figure out much of it they're willing to encapsulate. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

OonBoon

Does it let you:
A. pinch hit with pitchers
B. use a pitcher as a position player
C. use a position player as a pitcher
D. move a pitcher from the mound to a position

If this is finally a game that allows full flexibility in accordance with MLB rules, you will have sold me on this enterprise, sir.

Mar 12, 2013 09:27 AM
rating: 0
 
jrlanthier

Fairly confident mlb the show 12 (last year) allowed all these.

For sure it allowed A and B, all you had to do for B, was pinch hit for the pitcher, then it told you that you had a position player on the mound when it came time to pitch and you hit cancel and it put the guy on the mound with a FB and nothing else.

And A I remember making Sean Doolittle as a reliever and giving him some non-zero hit capabilities against righties and using him as a pinch hitter.

Mar 12, 2013 13:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Yep, this is correct. You can pitch with a position player, or insert a pitcher as a pinch runner/hitter, but I don't believe you can insert a pitcher as a fielder (or move them from the mound to the field).

Mar 12, 2013 18:31 PM
 
BayCityM

Is the next frontier for MLB The Show to turn into Out Of The Park baseball with world class graphics? I may never leave my house if that becomes a reality.

Mar 12, 2013 10:01 AM
rating: 3
 
CrashJones

It will be moving to the PS4 next, so the possibilities grow with that as well.
It should be an interesting series to follow going forward.
I'm new to it(The Show & PS3) as of the last couple months so it's fresh to me.
The Road to the Show mode is impressive. The whole game is actually.
I'm really looking forward to following along this season with the live mode as well.

Thanks for the review R.J.

Mar 12, 2013 11:06 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

I've never been able to get into the RTTS mode no matter how hard I try. I guess I prefer the transactions part of the game too much (go figure).

Mar 12, 2013 18:32 PM
 
jimcal

So RJ, what's your PS Network ID?

Mar 12, 2013 11:23 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

I don't play online much—the lag in the previous versions made it impossible to hit. I have seen talk that it's much improved this year so I might try it out. Anyhow: rearays.

Mar 12, 2013 18:35 PM
 
jhardman

Still waiting for Strat-O-Matic for the Xbox. :-)

Mar 12, 2013 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
bobgale

Thank you for the review, that's very helpful. I was interested in the game until I saw the comment about Michael Young being rated the second best defensive thirdbaseman and Ryan Braun (and Matt Kemp) not being considered a base stealing threat..

Right then and there, credibility went out the window for me. I appreciate the warning!

Mar 12, 2013 17:32 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

It's still a fun game and there are various ways to fix the ratings, either with self-editing (which is admittedly a tedious task) or by downloading one of the trillion other roster saves out there. The guys at Operation Sports usually put out a version with full minor league teams, etc. that capture the prospects side of things well while also adjusting some of the big-league issues.

Mar 12, 2013 18:37 PM
 
Eric C. Johnson

Has anyone used the PA packs that some users at OS post? Is it worth the time it would take to edit all that stuff into the game?

Mar 13, 2013 14:39 PM
rating: 0
 
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