How To Improve MLB Video Games, Saber-Style

USA TODAY Sports

All facets of MLB video games have been slow to develop, if they have at all. There are plenty of saber-friendly ways to help ratings and gameplay, creating a better experience.

In years past, this week was one of the greatest of the year. It was awesome to go out and buy the new MLB video game, whether it was MVP/Triple Play, The Show, All-Star Baseball, Ken Griffey. for the N64, or any other game. Between the lack of effort put into the games lately and my new sabermetric knowledge, games nowadays seem too unrealistic. While I have no idea how to change graphics and other development issues, I could have a field day with gameplay and ratings.

The amount of ratings has grown a ton over the past 15 years. On the hitter side, you have lefty/righty splits, many specific defensive skills, and more plate discipline breakdowns. With the pitchers, the bulk of the changes have come with the detail of the actual pitches they throw. However, the formulas and data used to create the ratings is not always optimal.

I think the easiest and best way to improve games is using PITCHf/x for pitcher's velocity and movement. On every game I ever played, a four-seam fastball was straight as an arrow, which differs from the average 3-4 inches of arm-side run in real life. Other pitch trajectories have also been suspect, especially with changeups not having enough fade and cutters with a foot of glove-side action. You could put PITCHf/x numbers in, maybe by half-inch increments, to show the movement you want on a certain pitch. The programming would seem to be relatively easy, and pitch databases could provide quick updates to repertoires.

At the plate, hacking away is the norm, especially for users. If the reward for swinging away is reduced (lower BABIP), players may end up more comfortable working counts in a realistic manner. Also, the ability to hit pitches out of the zone and miss on well-timed swings for pitches in the zone has also been lacking. Make the ability to make contact its own rating, and scrap the old contact rating in favor of a batted ball profile (LD/GB/IFFB/HRFB). The batted ball profile could replace Contact and Power, maybe adding in Pull vs. Opposite Field rates to get a great feel for the actual hitter. Also, don't forget about park factors.

It's funny that batting average is actually the best stat to use for the old-style contact rating, the combination of making contact and solid contact. Power was also a problem with extreme-type hitters. It was bad seeing someone have a good power rating because of a .500 SLG, even though they had a .350 AVG. For power, I used a midway point between ISO and TB/H: (TB-H)/(AB-K).

Defense might have the most to gain from the sabermetric realms, as things like the UZR components and Tango's Fans Scouting Report basically give the ratings out themselves. This would eliminate the tendency for players to have high/low numbers across the board, again a better representation of real life.

Sims like Out of the Park Baseball are now staples in the sabermetric community, but the inability to actually play games does not suit my tastes too well. I updated MVP 05 through the 2010 season, not exactly fun spending that many hours/days/weeks/months doing the work, but having proper ratings and skills to play with was usually worth the time. I don't know if I'll ever see this great of a game, but the realism would put even MVP to shame.

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