Perfecting MLB The Show's Franchise Mode

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In the simplest of terms, rain delays and doubleheaders are a big part of baseball. They are just as authentic and valid as a particular pair of Nike batting gloves or an Under Armor arm band. And I don't write that just because it's fun to watch those old blooper tapes the local network has stashed away somewhere for such rainy days.

Rain delays and schedule adjustments add an element of cunning managerial decisions that must be made. Do you call up a spot starter from AAA to help get you through the week? Do you utilize your bullpen sooner in the next few games to allow your starters to pitch on shorter rest? What about after a 43-minute rain delay? Are you going to bring back your starter who has a one-hitter through 4 and 2/3 innings? These decisions are a part of baseball and are more important than the thickness of the necklace your left fielder is wearing, or what the lighting looks like on the plastic cups scattered about the dugout.

So what could be improved to put a future version of into that top echelon of franchise mode offerings such as the series? Here are a few ideas: Simply put, the AI does not do enough tinkering with its bullpen to maximize the effectiveness of pitcher/batter showdowns. I played a game, , on Easter morning in which my Tigers were tied with the Marlins 4-4 in the 9th inning. With the switch-hitting Andrew Romine up -- hits left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching -- the AI leaves the lefty Brad Hand in the game; Hand was originally brought in during the 8th inning. Why the AI is not bringing in a setup man or closer in a tie game at home in the 9th is another issue, but Hand proceeds to get Romine to fly out. One out. Next up is the pitcher spot, and I pinch hit to bring in another switch hitter and the AI leaves Hand in again. Okay, fine. Hand proceeds to get the out. Two outs. Next up are a series or dangerous right-handed hitters at the top of the order: Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez -- followed by another right-handed hitter in Nick Castellanos. The AI leaves the lefty Hand in once more. Kinsler doubles a 1-2 pitch down into the left-field corner. Man on second, two outs. Tie game in the ninth. The AI still leaves the lefty Hand in the game. Justin Upton hits a 3-2 pitch that is hit so deep it ricochets off the LF scoreboard for a two-run home run, giving the Tigers a 6-4 lead in the 9th. The AI now takes the lefty Hand out, and the incoming right-handed pitcher gets Miguel Cabrera to hit into a 6-3 groundout for the the third and final out of the inning. The example above points out a number of flaws in the bullpen AI. I had the "Manager Hook" slider maxed out at 10, and the reliever stamina slider set to 1, and nothing was done to prevent the Marlins implosion by the hands of...well, Mr. Hand. For the past number of years, it seems the game will only take a pitcher out when he's gotten himself into some trouble, which is fair enough as a blanket statement. However, what about situational pitching substitutions? It seems the Marlins could have used some situational awareness here. Even if I had left-handed and right-handed hitters alternating down the lineup, they should still be maximizing their matchups, especially against a top of the order containing multiple All-Star-caliber hitters. This is even more true if the AI is not going to bring in the closer in the top of the 9th of a tied game at home. Instead, because Hand was "pitching successfully" getting the first two hitters out, he is left in the game. In MLB bullpens, "successful" is very frequently rewarded with a quick exit to give the pitching team a better matchup. This does not happen in , and frankly it's off by quite a bit. There are many of these sort of examples that can be brought to light, and this is just one from a recent game I played. Bad bullpen AI has plagued this series, and it's in need of some polish as it truly undermines the otherwise brilliant gameplay this series puts on display. The sim engine is good, but two stats that are impossible to balance are pitcher complete games and shutouts. Some of the potential bullpen AI changes above may help remedy this, but consider this: In 2015 there were a total of 10 pitchers in MLB with at least three complete games. There were three MLB pitchers in 2015 who had three or more shutouts. In the test sim I did in (default sliders), I ended up with 80 pitchers who had at least 10 complete games, and 40 who had at least three shutouts. Even adjusting the sliders like a mad scientist does not remedy this -- trust me, I've tried for two years now. We currently have AAA and AA as functional leagues in , and an A-ball level that houses players. Admittedly, expanding the minors further would be a minor enhancement, and it's probably not completely necessary in a console game. However, it would allow for a more realistic number of rounds in the amateur draft. And if these lower leagues were also playable, it would be fun to play some rookie-ball games with the prep player you just selected in the first round of the draft. Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes both signed very unique contracts during the MLB offseason. Both players have an early opt-out clause they may choose to exercise, or they can elect to have the remaining years (plural) on the deal honored if they so choose. As it stands now, this is not possible in as it seems player/team options only pertain to the final year of a contract. Incentives would also be a nice way to hook free agents or to keep player morale high. For example, if a player wants to know he'll get a 250K bonus for making the All-Star team, perhaps that motivates him a bit more to have a productive season. I really like the concept introduced earlier in this series where a player can get hurt during warm-ups. It's a fun, short-term challenge a manager has to work around. But why is the player still available to enter the game later on? Is he actually healthy enough to play? Is he actually hurt and simply not being identified as unavailable to play? Another addition could be something like Madden has where the player tries to talk you in to staying in, but there's a risk of greater injury involved if he does play., there are a number of issues with carryover saves I've already noted on the OS forums: - - - - These need to be fixed without adding any new hiccups. Finally, it's truly unfortunate that online franchise is nowhere near its cousin, offline franchise. Franchise mode, regardless of the additions old or new, must be ported to be fully operational whether one is playing offline or online. As for manager-only mode, this style of play deserves its own attention to detail to ensure players of this mode are having a franchise experience that is identical to anyone else -- just without the button mashing. What if 30 guys want to have an online manager-only franchise? They should be able to do so successfully, and any online franchise must be able to carryover to next year's game much like the offline ones. Although it may not happen until MLB actually does it first, an expansion mode like the one found in would be a superbly immersive addition.

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