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Ratings often don’t correlate with success at the plate

By on @pastapadre

Regardless of the specific sport, game, or mode, there always seem to be particular players that perform above or below their designated ratings. How many times can you recall seeing a player on TV and remembering something great – or terrible – he’d done for you in Madden, NBA 2K, or The Show? How many times have you had that “one guy” who’s a star in the sport but, for whatever reason, you just can’t get it done with him when it counts in your game?

What is especially compelling is that those players are often unique to each individual playing the game. This is not about, for example, “Brian Finneran in Madden” where the player in question has some skill (such as tremendous height and jumping ability) that is exploitable. Instead, personal experiences are shaped by players who put up stats beyond expectations, succeed in the clutch surprisingly often, or come up short despite ratings that would make it seem they’d be the ones anyone would want to have at the plate.

This is seen – or at least perceived as such – to be especially notable in baseball games, and the phenomenon is difficult to quantify. Does it have to do with the batting stances? Swings? Righty vs lefty? Do certain camera angles affect results? Do approaches change due to expectations for highly rated or lower rated hitters?

That’s what we’ll be assessing today. Why is it that some batters outperform or underperform their ratings for certain people, and what are some examples that stand out whether they are from the most recent game (MLB 15: The Show) or baseball games of the past?

Why is is that some people struggle with highly-rated players at the plate while lower-rated ones find a way to be heroes?

Dylan Favorite

I am a first and foremost an online head to head sports gamer. Now that The Show’s online modes work pretty well, baseball has recaptured my attention for the first time in years. What I first noticed, even as I’m a right-hander, is that I magically hit better from the left side of the plate. It seems like I can cover the plate and hit for power better as a lefty. This situation showed itself prominently in the Press Row Online Franchise. Over the course of 20 games Will Venable outperformed Matt Kemp in every offensive statistic for my Padres team. It got so bad that I traded him away to Bryan for Kyle Seager.

At about 100 games in, I am starting understand what kind of stances and swings work best for me. Its not just about left-versus-right anymore. Active batting stances are are distraction. Will Venable holds pretty still in the box. This allows me to focus better on the ball. I often find that I pay too much attention to the pre-pitch movements of my batters and I needlessly tried (with little success) to time my swings along with Kemp’s bat waggle.

In hitters’ counts I have far more success with mid-rated players. The urge to hold the stick up and go for a long ball is just too strong with power hitters. Hitting a single with Kemp felt like a failure to me and a waste of his potential. With someone like Venable I tend focus more on just getting the bat on the ball. Most of the home runs I hit occurred when I was not necessarily trying to go deep.

This for me is not as satisfying. There’s just something special about trying to hit a home run, and then hitting one, that I can’t distance myself from. I know I would be a better player if I let this go. But for now, give me a 80 contact 70 power lefty over Matt Kemp any day.

Cicero Holmes

The answer to this is threefold. The first is the most obvious answer – certain ball players are better than others. Some batters are inherently better at the plate than others and a good baseball sim will go to great lengths to represent that. The second answer is part of the beauty of baseball – batting stances are the snowflakes of sports. No two are exactly alike! A specific player’s stance has a timing ratio that is imperceptible to some but can be the difference between a moon shot and a foul tip. The third is one that’s the hardest for people to comprehend – you stink at batting!

Getting hits consistently in a baseball sim is probably the hardest thing to do in any sports game. A real life player that succeeds at getting hits 30% of the time over his career is a Hall-of-Famer and he’s been playing baseball his entire life. You, as the player, aren’t as good as him but also have to make snap judgments on a good pitch versus a bad pitch as well as pitch type. When you add the nuance of batting stance to the mix, all bets are off. This is why sometimes players perform better with journeymen over All-stars.

Gus Ramsey

The Jose Reyes Conundrum

One of the issues with being a Mets fan is it hasn’t often led to an enjoyable video game experience. Since the advent of video game baseball the Mets have not had many good teams.

With RBI Baseball we had the late 80’s Mets, who were good. Then we scuffled through the 90’s with the Bonilla’s and Kent’s and Hundley’s of the world. Truth be told, Bernard Gilkey and Lance Johnson were probably the best offensive video game Mets of that time. In 1999 the early 2000’s we had some good Mets teams, but for every Piazza and Olerud there was an Agbayani and Payton. But then Omar Minaya spent some money and things began to change. Alou, Delgado, Beltran, Green, Floyd plus the arrival of David Wright and Jose Reyes gave the video Mets some pop and pizzaz in their lineup.

The real jewel of it all was Jose Reyes. With dynamic speed and power, the long-awaited perfect lead-off man the Mets and video-game playing Mets fans had been waiting for had arrived.

With Playstation making it possible to upload your own songs and put them into MLB the Show, I picked walk-up songs for every guy on the Mets roster. For Reyes I went with The Eagles “Already Gone.” My logic was this; whenever Jose got on first he was already gone to second and then probably third, stealing those bags with ease. The problem was video game Jose Reyes was thinking “Oh great, Gus is controlling me? I’m already gone,” as in out.

Jose Reyes is a career .291 hitter with a .340 on-base and .774 OPS.

Jose Reyes is a career .210 hitter with a .280 on-base and .586 OPS in video games when controlled by me. (That’s an approxmation but probably pretty damn accurate.)

You talk about pressing. I was litterally pressing whenver Reyes was up. I was pressing X, circle or sqaure on almost every pitch. I’m a guess hitter, hoping to nail pitch and location in order to make solid contact. If my Guess Pitch Correctly (GPC) percentage was 10% with every other player, it was .000072% with Reyes. And when I did GPC, it was usually on a 1-2 slider down and away that I often chased anyway.

When I used the contact swing with Reyes it was merely a suggestion. When I swung and missed at a pitch with Reyes the immediate feedback from the game wasn’t “early” or “late” it was “what were you thinking?” It was so bad that Jose Reyes’ video game agent called and demanded a trade. With other players I was patient, laying off pitches and working the at bat. With Reyes I had the patience of a kid on Christmas morning. I wanted him on base and I wanted it now! And then… flail, hack, check swing… back to the bench. I had this great super tool to be the catalyst of my offense and I couldn’t figure out how to use it. Tim Taylor would smack me for mishandling a tool this poorly.

Oh sure, the occasional bunt would work and there were flashes of brilliance (an 18-game hitting streak during the MLB The Show 2011 season), but for the most part I served Jose Reyes about as well as the person working the after-midnight window at a drive through serves their customers.

Now that I am into my MLB The Show 2015 season and bouncing back and forth between Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson as my lead off guy, and Wilmer Flores is “handling” the shortstop duties as I quietly suffer the pain of Jose lost, I wonder if I should swing a deal with the Jays to get him back.

Could I handle the disappointment of failing him again? Would the video game gods punish me for even trying such a thing? If I am to be honest with myself there is only one reality and it’s this; the days of me ever doing anything productive with video game Jose Reyes are already gone.

Bryan Wiedey

I believe there to be a number of factors in this, chief among them psychological. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You begin to recognize struggles with a player and then expect failure every time they step to the plate. That undoubtedly changes the approach to each pitch while every single out stands out more than those committed by others.

That was the case for me in just the last few months with MLB 15: The Show. The player in question was Kyle Seager. I had to get away from that – I wasn’t going to be able to dig my way out of it – so I traded him. All the while I was raking with the likes of Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson.

The perception of a player based on their ratings definitely plays into it. When a lower-rated batter is up I tend to find myself being more patient, while the feeling with a higher-rated player is that they could compensate for some ill-advised swings. There’s an anxiety there about not wanting to miss on a good pitch to hit that doesn’t exist as much with others, because their at-bats aren’t anticipated to be especially memorable.

It’s not just psychological though. Swings, proximity to the plate, stances, and even height all present unique variances from player-to-player.

Kat Bailey

As usual, it comes down to player skill as much as ratings. Player ratings matter in The Show more than most games, but even a team full of powerhouse hitters like the Tigers can be undone by a player who swings at anything and everything that comes their way.

But I suppose that’s not the question. Sometimes players do seem have to a supernatural way of outperforming their ratings, no matter what the skill of the player might be. For me, it’s the entirety of the Minnesota Twins. There’s no question that they are among the crappiest teams in the game, unable to field, pitch, or hit worth a damn, but whenever I take them online, I seem to be able to string together some hits against even the toughest teams and put some runs up.

The guy keying these rallies, of all people, is Jordan Schafer — a light hitting centerfielder whose only notable quality is his raw speed. In real life, he’s been mostly replaced by Aaron Hicks, and it’s possible that he’s even been sent down to Triple-A. But when I have him in the lineup, he always seems to be able to bloop a hit over the head of the defense and start visting hell on the basepaths.

That’s the funny thing about sports games. Programmers can do everything they can to try and replicate real human beings, but the avatars they create are ultimately just a collection of statistics, algorithms and code. And when the random number generator hits just right, good things can happen. And that’s how a nobody like Schafer can become a hero in the bottom of the 9th against the Tigers.

On the other hand, when I look at the current standings, I see that the Twins are in first place, and they’ve gotten there because of opportunistic hitting and the unexpected rise of players like Trevor Plouffe. So who knows, maybe MLB 15 is doing a better job of modeling baseball than I thought.

T.J. Lauerman

When it comes to batting in baseball games, I think what’s more important than a player’s ratings is how comfortable the user is with the player’s batting stance. I don’t want to discount the player ratings altogether though. In MLB 13, I could not hit a lick with Anthony Rizzo, and in Diamond Dynasty in MLB 15 I’m absolutely on fire. Though 89 games: .299 BA, 26 HR, .644 Slugging.

For me, I play better with left handed batters, who stand tall, and keep their hands high in their stance and have a “quiet” bat. If that sounds insane, trust me, I know. Last year with the Mariners, even with their weakly rated offense, I was able to rip with them, because their lineup was predominately lefty. While that didn’t pay off in real life, it very much fit into the way I play well in MLB.


Some thoughts from the community on the subject