In MLB The Show 20, developers at SDS pushed forward with “perfect” inputs for hitting as a way to smooth out some of the complaints surrounding user inputs not mattering enough. Overall, I think this was a good direction to take hitting (especially for online play), and it seems like we might get something equivalent to it with pitching in MLB The Show 21. However, whether this teased MLB 2K-style pitching system ends up leading to “perfect” inputs is something we’ll need to wait and hear more about from SDS this month.
Before then, I thought it would be good to look at some aspects of hitting and discuss how I’d like to see them tweaked for MLB The Show 21 since no new “major” hitting mechanic has been teased thus far. The pitcher-batter duel has helped keep The Show fresh year after year, so I think it’s important to remember that grand, sweeping changes have never really been the way forward. It’s through calculated, smart tweaks that SDS has made The Show consistently special year after year on the diamond.
With that in mind, I want to mostly focus on zone hitting. This will encompass the skills that go into zone hitting, and what I like about zone hitting. From there, I’ll touch on various aspects of hitting by highlighting an aspect I like and then one element of it I would like to see improved.
MLB The Show 21 Hitting Improvements
First off, I want to be clear that while most online folks use zone hitting, it is not inherently a more “skilled” sort of hitting than the other types — you just use different skills. On top of that, the discussion surrounding zone hitting comes off as elitist at times, and I think that does everyone a disservice because there is more that goes into hitting than fast-twitch movements of a thumb stick. I play a lot of Rainbow Six Siege, and while “flicks” of the mouse that end with sick head shots are dope, just as much goes into your positioning, cursor placement, and how you get ready to fire that next shot. The same goes for hitting, regardless of what system you use.
I don’t say this to look down on zone hitting (I use it), but while it has a high skill cap, it is not more “realistic” or better than the other sorts of hitting by default. The elements that go into all hitting types are attributes, reflexes, timing, pattern recognition, and vision. The weight of each of these skills changes depending on what hitting style you use, but they all remain in some fashion.
Overall, the top skills that go into zone hitting are reflexes and player attributes. You want to use the best players possible in order to maximize the size of your PCI and get good outcomes when you make quality contact. Directional and analog hitting have different top skills that go into them but, again, I’m not going to focus too much on those two styles (minus one short point at the end).
MLB The Show 21 – The Perfect-Perfect Buckets
Good: When a perfect-perfect flyball is destroyed, man does it feel good.
Willy Adames is not a power hitter, but the cool part about this perfect-perfect system is anyone can unleash the fury from time to time.
There’s really not much I would change about a perfect-perfect home run when you really key in on it, except maybe change the presentation a bit more — especially online. Pulling a pitch in the upper decks when you’re sitting on that inside fastball is a high that’s hard to hit in any other sports game. I do think we could stay on the hitter longer with the camera at times, and I know some people want to remove the “no-doubt” camera so you can stay behind the hitter longer, but that’s not really anything to do with game mechanics.
Improvement: Keep the perfect-perfect home run concept consistent throughout the whole year.
We went into MLB The Show 20 with a basic motto from SDS that “X power” would equal a home run every time on a perfect-perfect flyball. This could change slightly depending on park dimensions and wind, but that was the plan. SDS sort of fluctuated here at times, and so we did not always get those outcomes. The clip above is from earlier in the year, and that’s a Duke Snider card that has well above the power threshold. The pitch dies at the track, and it’s not really clear why.
Overall, I think SDS does want consistency and we’re in a solid place here, but it just needs to stay more consistent all season. If “X” power means a home run, then make sure that power threshold is always giving that outcome.
Good: Perfect-perfect outcomes being possible on out-of-zone pitches is good.
Improvement: But let’s tighten the window here for what sorts of players should get them.
Your eye at the plate matters, and it should matter more than your fast-twitch movements. This should be even more true depending on what sort of hitter you’re using. I don’t want to remove the bad-ball hitters like Nolan Arenado or Vlad Guerrero from getting perfect-perfect outcomes, but they should not be possible for every player. How we tie outcomes to specific players is where the discussion gets a bit more difficult.
Tying these outcomes to attributes thresholds is probably the most logical way to think about these things, but it’s up to SDS to decide if it should be related to vision, contact, discipline, or some combination of these. I also don’t think it should tie much into the pitcher because it’s about the “range” of the hitter more than who he’s up against.
Another way to approach it could be based on what sort of hitter you’re using. Does a pull hitter get to more inside pitches? Maybe.
Lastly, you could simply make it so the PCI does not reach out of the zone enough to get “perfect” outcomes depending on the hitter. That one seems least likely just because I’m not sure SDS would want to “gate” your inputs and fence them into the strike zone since that would need to still tie back into attributes anyway.
MLB The Show 21 Hitting – What Makes A Home Run?
Good: The hitting feedback system is improved, and top of the “sweet spot” home runs make a lot of sense.
Bad: But let’s try to remove the non “sweet spot” home runs as much as possible.
This may be the part of the article worth the most debate, but I like the idea of pitches at the top of the sweet spot of the PCI being rewarded with home runs a lot. The patched feedback system explains launch angles, which builds into why I feel this way. The idea of “spin” rate matters for both pitching and hitting, so that’s a little trickier to quantify for PCI placement and home runs, which is why I’m just focused on launch angle/PCI placement with this suggestion.
On the Schoop home run:
- The ball is out of the zone, but at the top of the zone.
- My contact and timing are “good” on the swing.
- My PCI is directly in the middle of the pitch, but just at the top of the sweet spot.
I don’t get a “perfect” on any one portion, but besides reaching slightly out of the zone, everything else about the swing at least came together for the most part. This no doubter outcome seems acceptable, and I also would have also been fine with a flyout here.
On the Aquino home run:
- I’m just early.
- My sweet spot is not on the ball.
- I’m only “good” on contact.
I did not nail any part of that swing, but I’m still rewarded with a no doubter. I don’t agree with that outcome.
Point being, home runs are a little out of hand at times in online games. I would like to see windows and outcomes tightened up more so PCI placement matters even more, and then the results that come out of that will be more rewarding. This starts and ends with PCI placement though. If I don’t get even half the ball into the “sweet spot” of the PCI, don’t give me a home run. I didn’t earn it.
MLB The Show 21 Hitting – Foul Ball Windows
Good: Long pitcher-batter duels can be intense, even if against the AI they can feel a little exhausting and repetitive.
Improvement: But let’s make these foul ball windows more logical and consistent.
Nick Ahmed is nothing special at the plate. He’s made it this far due to his glove. But I use this example to sort of point out how I would tweak the foul ball system to make timing, attributes, and PCI placement matter more. Again, if zone hitting is all about a couple key input elements, then SDS developers should do everything they can to accentuate them for the online/competitive setting.
I don’t think Ahmed should get to this pitch and foul it off for four reasons:
- He’s a below average hitter.
- He’s “very late” on the swing.
- The sweet spot of his PCI is not near the pitch.
- He’s swinging at a ball.
We can argue about which factors should matter more, but you can’t reward bad process and execution. Maybe Taillon does not have mega high K/9s and that should factor into things to some extent. Maybe inside pitches should be a little more easy to foul off over down-and-away pitches.
Regardless, the point is we as a community should understand outcomes as much as possible. I’m using old clips that are from before SDS patched in the expanded feedback system, but better feedback on swing trajectory etc. isn’t the issue here. Nothing the feedback system tells me is going to make me believe Ahmed should get bat that ball. Much like the perfect-perfect home run system was initiated with a “power” rating in mind for what would be a home run, we should understand why someone got to a foul ball or not.
If you’re very late on a ball and the sweet spot of your PCI is not on the pitch, I think that should be enough right there to be a swing and a miss no matter who you are. Perhaps “late” rather than “very late” opens the window up a bit more — and if it’s a strike that gives you more leeway — but I’m mostly focused on the bar for when a swing and miss should happen no matter what.
MLB The Show 21 Hitting – Check Swings
Good: It’s impressive how accurate the check swing system is considering it’s determined by a pressure-based input of a single button.
Improvement: But let’s make your eye mean more.
This improvement would tie into the same concepts as the foul balls, and I think that is a good thing. I’m looking to make changes that can flow between different states of hitting, and this is one of them. Even fewer factors need to go into check swings than foul balls, but the same concept applies. I should not be rewarded with a check swing here because:
- I’m very early.
- It’s a clear ball.
- Eduardo Escobar is not some OBP machine.
Again, if we want to tie vision ratings into this, or K/9s for pitchers here then fair enough, but the point is I should not be rewarded just because I only “tapped” the button. I am a check swing phenom, and I exploit this to my advantage, but it’s a clear crutch and one I should not be allowed to abuse as much as I do.
This should come down to a simple rule: Pitches in no way touching the zone that you’re very early/late on should end up being check swing strikes no matter what.
If I’m on the pitch (as it relates to PCI sweet spot) and/or slightly early/late, then I don’t think it should matter where the pitch is or what my attributes are more or less. In those situations, getting a check swing would be just fine. In other words, I think these outcomes can sort of be mapped out much more cleanly than the perfect-perfect or foul ball windows.
Embrace The Anomalies
I’ve talked a lot about getting outcomes that are consistent, but I want to end this with a general point that we still need to embrace variance. Weird things happen in baseball, and I know in a competitive setting we want everything to be one-to-one for why something worked or not, but that’s not baseball — or even sports video games. The “weird” should and will still exist no matter what, so we need to re-focus and really think about what’s “acceptable” as an outcome and what’s not.
People freak out about perfect-perfect line drive outs. To them I would say to relax a little bit. We know the real MLB numbers and line drives do not mean you automatically get a hit in real life no matter how much exit velocity is involved. By that same logic, you’re still going to get bloop singles on balls out of the zone from time to time.
That’s just baseball.
If The Show is turned strictly into a game of rock-paper-scissors then it’s inherently not going to be as interesting pitch to pitch. Every single swing you’ll know what the outcome is right as you swing, and that’s just not exciting. Just like green releases are bad for NBA 2K because they take the moment-to-moment intrigue out of whether a shot will go in or not as it travels through the air, knowing as you make contact whether it’s going to be a hit, out, or home run would destroy that moment of mystery.
A little mystery and variance is a good thing.
I’ve mostly been talking about zone hitting and competitive/online play here, so I do apologize to folks who use other hitting types or strictly play the AI. However, I think most of the logic behind these changes would transfer to all modes of play and skill levels.
However, as a final point on the competitive scene, I do think it’s time to restrict online play in all ranked modes to zone hitting. Maybe analog hitting could still be in there, but with the game now going multiplatform, I think it’s time to unify the competitive balance a bit more by regulating certain aspects of online play. This means I believe “directional” hitting should be removed from the “ranked” online modes. Again, I’ve had fun using “directional” hitting in an online league before, and I use it in my offline franchises from time to time, but balancing online play is hard enough without also trying to factor in a multitude of hitting input methods. I don’t think pitching needs to be as stringent since all the input methods have positives/negatives and none give you “pinpoint” control, but that’s something maybe we’ll need to look at as well after SDS announces whatever they’re doing with pitching for MLB The Show 21.
Do you agree with these tweaks to hitting, or do you want to see bigger wholesale changes?