April 14, 2009

Baseball is Hard

So I bought a copy of MLB 09 The Show for my PS3. Ever since, I've been role-playing as the rookie pitcher Ryan Schmageki. I started in the Orioles' AA organization as a reliever and, after a couple promotions (first to AAA starter, then MLB reliever, now MLB starter) am now pitching for the Athletics. I've got a 93 mph fastball, an 82 mph change-up, and an 87 mph sinker. One of these days, I hope to learn how to throw a curveball.

In a year and some change in the majors, my statistics are, well, they're okay. My ERA is a tad high, over 4.50 I believe. (In 2008, the MLB average team ERA was 4.33). My WHIP is 1.2 something, which I don't think is terrible (2008 average: 1.39). My K/BB ratio is excellent though -- 72/9, or 8 strikeouts per walk. That is pretty damn amazing. In 2008, the MLB average was 2.01 strikeouts per walk.

The game is really really difficult, just like real baseball :-) As you pitch, you have control over two things: the strength of the throw and the point during your delivery at which you release the ball. These two things, along with your energy level, confidence in a given situation, and the wind, will influence the speed and location of your pitch. Each pitch also has numerical ratings in velocity, control, and movement -- you earn points to spend on improving these ratings over time. (This simulates training.) So that's pretty realistic. The better you do in a game, the more points you have to spend. And the game gives you certain in-game goals (strike out a certain hitter, induce a ground-out) and overall goals (increase your stamina rating, give up fewer than 20 hits in the next 7 games, etc.) that earn you even more points -- but count against you when you fail.

The problem is, the game's UI doesn't provide many clues as to how to throw the ball. After about a full season in the majors, I have yet to figure out how to locate my fastball. I've spent a ton of points in fastball control (which is how close your pitch lands to the target you choose) and still can't paint the outside corner (e.g., throw pitches that catch just a little bit of the plate for a strike). I don't walk many batters, but recently I've been going into lots of 3-ball counts, which drives up my pitch count, which decreases my energy level and increases the chance my computer-simulated manager will pull me from the game. I've googled for tips on pitching in the game, but nothing comes up. And the game doesn't have an in-game pitching practice mode. I keep trying to figure out how to throw pitches that land where I want (this combination of inputs produces this result), but to no avail. I can't tell if it's the game's fault or mine.

I also give up lots of bloop singles down the middle. It's incredibly frustrating to give up 2 of these to start and inning; little dinky hits that raise your WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) stat. It's enough to make me think it's just a quirk of the game's UI. No one hits that many through-the-box singles in real life. And I seem to get hit for a lot of home runs, too. Mind you, it's usually a good hitter -- Travis Hafner or Miguel Cabrera -- but sometimes it's Ichiro or Kenji Johjima. How can I go from 8 IP, 1 ER against the Yankees to 7 IP, 4 ER against the Mariners? Then back to 8 IP, 0 ER against the Red Sox?!

Because baseball is freaking hard and unpredictable, and this game gives you a really great sense of that, that's why. In the game, I'm a young (19-year-old) pitcher struggling with pitch location and giving up way too many hits. Players typically peak around 28 (maybe sometime in May if I keep playing the rate I do, haha), so hopefully by then I will get better. But for now, to keep myself from throwing the controller through my nice fancy HDTV when I give up a grand slam with the game tied, I'll just reduce the difficulty level. Last night I got really pissed off at it and decided to quit; but upon the light of day I think I'll soldier on. I wish there was an option to plead with your manager for a demotion. I need to go back to AAA to build up some more training points! There's a famous story about Willie Mays asking his manager to bench him because he wasn't performing very well ...

I could never be a baseball player. They say good baseball players have a short memory. You have to treat every batter the same, regardless if you just gave up a big fly or if you just struck a guy out. If you get hammered for 8 runs in one game, during the next game you've got to pitch like it's a new day. You can't have your failures hanging over your head. I am too much of a perfectionist. I get frustrated when I give up a run. But after all, it's not like Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez never gave one up. And they're two of the greatest pitchers ever.

Gawl dang I love me some baseball.

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