A 99-mph fastball soars through the fabric of space and time without bias. The ball is a blur; its seams hum, putting the hitter on notice of the incoming threat. Pitching a baseball, then, is not only an act of athleticism but also a medium to negotiate a victor.
This article will focus on the design of the pitching engines for both MLB The Show and Pro Yakyuu Spirits (PYS) Baseball. Let’s get into what makes both games accomplished baseball pitching simulators.
Starting with the actual baseball itself, Pro Yakyuu Spirits’ baseball features motion blur in pitching that MLB The Show does not. A simple feature, the motion blur on the ball creates a sense of speed and adds a layer of difficulty for hitters attempting to identify pitch types and ball rotation. The blur results in an increased difficulty tracking pitches. This feature adds a serious layer of complexity and simulates the human eye’s perception of a baseball in flight better than The Show.
YouTuber StrawberryYogurt0 compared PYS pitch speeds side-by-side heads-up camera angle used in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League. The results are clear. PYS simulates the pitch speed of the ball with incredible precision on the ‘realism’ setting. The margin for error on the speed of the ball side-by-side comparison is almost imperceptible. The Show also notably creates a challenge to hit the ball on the ‘Legend’ setting. What sets the two apart begins with PYS’s motion blur. The blur lends a sense of realism to the most dramatic difference between the two titles, the pitch-axis movement.
Pitch-break is a fundamental way pro pitchers and coaches evaluate pitch performance. Cameras are used to measure how much the baseball moves on the x and y-axis on a given pitch. This is significant, and this type of data must be considered when creating a simulation pitching engine. The break’s timing and amount of movement on the x and y-axis in PYS are unmatched. Konami did not confirm which data was leveraged to engineer such a precise ball physics and pitching engine, although we can speculate Edgertronic or Rapsodo data was used. Complementing its realistic baseball physics, PYS boasts an astounding 32 different pitch types, many with their own unique pitch grip animations, outperforming The Show with 11. In The Show’s defense, many of PYS’s pitch-types are variations of speed and break on the ball.
In the bigs, spin ratings help us measure how well the speed carries from release point to home plate. The Show shines with fastball carry and variation in speeds. Not all 99 mph fastballs feel and play the same. Some pitchers have greater velocity-carry on their pitches. SDS has not confirmed if it leveraged spin rating data to create this feature. It may simply be a variation in animation that creates a shorter ball-flight distance to home plate or an illusion of the ball jumping on a hitter quicker. Irrespective of what technology and data are utilized, fastballs up in the zone arrive quickly and are difficult to negotiate.
Conversely, high spin-rate is a special skill pitchers feature in PYS, clearly identifying which pitchers have the best spin rates. Konami consciously incorporates spin ratings into their simulator and allows gamers to consider this skill when managing their staff or bullpen.
MLB The Show and Pro Yakyuu Spirits Pitching Ratings
It is important to emphasize just how important role ratings play. The ratings differentiate each individual ballplayer. Baseball offers the most robust statistics in sports. This rich data set allows Konami and SDS to build-in details that create a wide range of outcomes on the diamond.
The Show presents ratings in a pie chart that is conducive to battle royale drafts. The visual is a clean way to sum up player ratings. PYS implements a letter grade scale for ratings, similar to the NBA2K franchise.
Whereas MLB The Show features pitcher ratings heavily dependent on statistics and splits, i.e., performance against a righty or a lefty, PYS takes situational baseball another level up. The special skills in PYS are heavily dependent on cases and circumstances beyond splits. Some notable skills are Big Stage, where a pitcher performs better in playoffs and big games; Strong Presence, where a pitcher limits hitter’s ability in the first inning of relief only during a close game; Strong Finisher, where pitchers receive a boost in the 6th inning and another in the 8th; and Short Temper, Close Game Pressure, and so on.
The Show is ratings heavy and technically sound. It is unbiased, numbers-driven, and quite consistent. In some ways, the game’s ratings are Fangraphs charts recreated in digital animation form. Differentiating itself from the best simulation baseball game in the United States, PYS expands on quantitative ratings and adds in a human element. The ratings and personality-types combine to materialize a deeper level of strategy and decision-making in Konami’s pitching engine. Composure plays a stronger role in PYS than MLB The Show, impacting situational baseball strategy. PYS also emphasizes key pitcher-hitter matchups and breakpoint moments as they come up, showcasing a one-versus-one battle.
Pitching Controller Mechanics
The Show separates itself in 2021 with its Pinpoint pitching mechanic. It is based on the individuality of pitchers, their wind-ups, and their pitch mixes.
The more input required, the better – and timing, gestures, and tracing all deliver more control to the gamer. SDS is rewarding users with more accuracy than those who master the new mechanic. This is a big deal. Previous mechanics use one or two user-input variables. Adding a third grants gamers more influence over the formulas embedded within the pitching engine that produce the pitch output.
Pinpoint pitching directly addresses two things. First, more inputs result in less scripted outcomes. The game is often driven by its powerful rating system, and our actual inputs as gamers do not have enough influence. The matchup ratings between pitcher and hitter dictate the outcomes far more than we would like. As a demonstration, I like to think of the baseball as it is being thrown as a flying formula made up of all of a pitcher’s ratings. The pitcher’s highest-rated attributes will weigh most heavily into the formula. Now, with Pinpoint pitching, we have an additional user input added to the equation. In theory, this added element of input will widen the skill gap in competitive settings.
Secondly, for the Show, Pinpoint is building in more pitch control. It remains to be seen just how much more control. The new mechanic will display a pitch’s range of outcomes with the new shadow zone. This zone, which we knew already existed, is now displayed and helps us manage our expectations on where a pitch will end up in the zone.
Concluding, the player ratings in The Show present us unique pitching logic embedded within its engine. Logic, coupled with Pinpoint pitching, results in each pitcher presenting a different feel, requiring hours and repetitions to master before handing them the ball in competitive settings.
We can compare The Show’s mechanic with PYS, which uses only one user input. Instead, it blends in other factors into pitching logic such as special skill composure, fatigue, and craftiness in pitch location and selection. While it is only one user input, mastery of how much weight the special skills impact a player is also a strategic way to simulate pitching. It could be argued it is a more intellectual approach, likewise requiring many logged hours to understand the impact many special skills have on player ratings.
When I worked with Corey Kluber’s pitching coach with my first baseball client, we made the biggest adjustments to the release point. Nailing down the release point is key to consistency, and it is a matter of milliseconds. My client quickly was releasing the ball further downhill at the perfect-perfect point, making it more difficult to pick up the ball as a hitter. The ball “jumped” out of his hand, and his off-speed throws had more break.
Neither SDS or PYS has confirmed that each pitching animation has a unique release window. The release window will impact how far the ball will travel to home plate. This will impact how quickly the ball jumps on a hitter. The Show does an excellent job of varying their release point windows for each pitcher’s unique animation.
PYS does not offer a control-mechanic that incorporates a pitcher’s wind-up. PYS does offer more athletic pitching animations. The pitchers have more flexion in their motions. The Show instead offers incredible depth in animation variation in wind-ups and deliveries, making each delivery unique which pairs well with their control mechanics. Pitching in both titles is a joy.
There is an absolute sense of power and speed in professional baseball pitching. Pitchers are elite athletes, and both games capture the realism of pitching in their own way. PYS offers versatility through its endless pitch selection blended with its incredible pitch break mechanics. The Show delivers depth through precise ratings, animation variation, and its Pinpoint controls show promise. All of these elements are key tenets of a simulation pitching engine whether it be MLB The Show or Pro Yakyuu Spirits.