This article was inspired by an article on CBS Sports which can be viewed here: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/shohei-otani-will-break-the-mold-in-fantasy-and-video-games-when-he-gets-to-mlb/

 

With the 2017 MLB season over, the Houston Astros crowned as World Series champions and baseball firmly in the offseason, this offseason has been one of the slowest and most uninteresting offseason in a long time, barring the Shohei Otani chase. Shohei Otani is a 23 year old star pitcher from Japan; however he is not your standard baseball pitcher. Otani is a “two way” player. Unlike virtually all other pitchers in the world, who only pitch, Otani is also a great hitter and fielder. Two way players used to be very valuable in the early days of baseball in the early 1900’s, when rosters were much smaller and teams could not afford a large squad. Babe Ruth who is universally considered the greatest baseball player ever was from this era, a player with whom Otani has garnered comparison.

Due to the unique way Japanese players join the MLB, via the “Posting System” which gives every MLB team the chance to bid for a player’s services, all 32 teams had a chance of getting a one of a kind player. While I was reading up on every team’s chance of recruiting Otani for the 2018 MLB season, I stumbled on this article on CBS Sports: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/shohei-otani-will-break-the-mold-in-fantasy-and-video-games-when-he-gets-to-mlb/.  As I read this piece my mind quickly realised something; this article never mentioned how Shohei Otani is featured in Japanese baseball video games and how Shohei Otani won’t really break the mould as a video game avatar.

While I understand that  Otani is not the only “two way” baseball player in the world, especially as NCAA collegiate baseball teams often make use of “two way” players, due to the limited amount of scholarships they are allowed to offer to potential players. However I am using Shohei Otani as the example for this post, because he is a 5 year veteran of the Nippon Professional Baseball league which is the top baseball league in Japan, and has proven his skill there. Unlike 2017 MLB Draft picks Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, both “two way” players who have yet to play a full season of minor league baseball. Also Otani is coming to the MLB for the immediate 2018 season, whilst Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay will not be MLB ready for at least another year, as they will be playing in the minor leagues.

Baseball console video games generally use a rating system from 1 to 99. Players have individual ratings for a huge amount of variables such as pitching, hitting and fielding that ranges from 1 to 99, which contributes to a main “overall” rating which also ranges from 1 to 99, that determines how “good” a player is at face value. Basically the higher the main rating number is, theoretically the better the player is. As every single statistic contributes to the main rating, it would be impossible for a “two way” player to not be rated 99 overall, simply because he has a large amount of highly rated statistics, artificially inflating his main rating. However the same can’t be said for Konami’s Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu and Pro Yakyu Spirits baseball games. I know Konami aren’t in many gamers good graces, and rightfully so, but they make some really great baseball games.

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Madison Bumgardner is one of the best hitters as a pitcher in the MLB. His hitting attributes are incredibly low for someone of his real life skill. However increasing his hitting or his surprisingly low pitching attributes would increase his already high 94 overall. His current hitting and field statistics add 4 to his overall.

 

Unlike most baseball games which use the aforementioned 1 to 99 rating system, the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu and Pro Yakyu Spirit games utilise a “letter grade” system. The letter grade system encompasses the letters; G, F, E, D, C, B, A and S. A G rank means the skill/attribute is absolutely pathetic and an S rank is extremely, extremely rare and superhuman in ability. For example, a batter with an S rank in power is going to hit balls deep to the outfield and long, high flyballs, whilst being much more likely to hit homeruns at a consist rate. In comparison a G rank in power will make it almost impossible to hit homeruns, even if the player makes good contact with the ball.  The ranking system used by these games are also more concise compared to number ratings and don’t inflate the ratings of “two way” players; meaning a “two way” player like Shohei Otani wouldn’t be rated an artificial 99 overall rating, simply because he has higher stats in pitching, batting and fielding.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For more in-depth information on the Pro Yakyu Spirits ratings system click here: http://spiritstranslation.com/attributes/attributes.html

But do you know what I love the most about this system? Both the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu and Pro Yakyu Spirits game series are official licensed games of the Nippon Pro Baseball league, where Shohei Otani has been playing since he was drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2012. Between the four Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu games since 2012, (five if you include the Ketteiban post season game release in 2012) and the four Pro Yakyu Spirits games since 2012, these games have history with Shohei Otani, and have made him a “two way” player, that is not overrated and does not ruin the game’s balance. Because of this Otani is able to play in-game exactly as he plays in real life, with no issues.

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It may look a bit odd, but these are Shohei Otani’s attributes in Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu 2017

 

In game ratings aren’t as much of an issue in Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP). OOTP is a text based baseball simulation game that uses a 1 to 100 rating system based on what your team scouts report, these ratings can fluctuate based on your scout’s ability and there isn’t an overall rating available for players. OOTP baseball games are also decided by simulation rather than actually playing the game, as you would in the other baseball game series I’ve previously mentioned. Rather the issue OOTP has is with the AI line-up management system it currently uses. Unlike MLB: The Show which uses the MLB baseball league exclusively and each MLB team’s respective minor teams, OOTP has not only the MLB league teams, but also teams from the NPB in Japan alongside the Mexican, Cuban and Korean leagues, just to name a few. Otani has been in these games for quite a while. However the OOTP game’s AI can’t seem to use Otani to his full potential. Otani is used exclusively as a pitcher if game day line-ups are left to the AI, which robs Otani of his “two way” player abilities.  For the last few years Otani has played as a pitcher on days he is scheduled to pitch, but plays as his team’s designated hitter on days he is not pitching. Otani is also a very good hitter in the NPB, so the AI is missing out on using his batting to help the team succeed.

Remember the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu and Pro Yakyu Spirits game series I mentioned earlier? Well these games not only have a fix to the ratings system, but have an AI fix to Otani and other “two way” players who could suffer from this issue. In-fact the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu series has had “two way” players for years, occasionally as part of the “Success Mode”, which is a story like mode. However it wasn’t until Shohei Otani joined the NPB, that Konami modified their AI line-up management system. Before then, any type of “two way” player couldn’t do what Otani does year in and year out; but now players can replicate the style of baseball that Otani plays. Previously any “two-way” players could only play one position in the game. For example, if your pitcher could also play first base, you had to choose to either let him pitch or field, there could be no in game changes once the game had begun. But now thanks to Otani, players can now change a “two way” player’s position in game. There is a rule that a pitcher cannot go back to the pitcher position once he has been moved to a fielding position. This includes the Designated Hitter position (DH) which is strictly a hitting position, with no fielding responsibilities.  Otani usually plays in the DH position on days he does not pitch and occasionally in his early years, Otani played as an outfielder. The current AI system the Konami games utilise allows Otani to replicate the system he plays in real life. I will however admit the games put Otani in the outfield rather than in the DH, but that’s usually because he has rather decent in-game fielding stats. The real life decision behind Otani not being allowed to play in the outfield is due to the high risk of injury and constant fatigue that would make it hard for him to pitch, which both Konami games unfortunately, in my experience at least, have failed to replicate.

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The arrow is showing where Otani is on the lineup. The circle indicates his position. Otani is going to play in the outfield and not pitch, while also being the first to bat. This was done automatically by the game!

While Otani looks to possibly break the game of baseball in real life, I believe it is highly unlikely he will break the video game equivalent of baseball. Game developers simply have to look at how Japanese video games managed to include Otani into games, while maintaining the game balance. I will admit I am curious if Otani’s “two way” nature will be exclusive to him, or will player’s be able to create their own “two way” players after all these years. For years players of sports game players have groaned whenever they see a a one-of-a-kind player like a Michael Vick, or a Stephen Curry. Players who simply “break” the game simply because their virtual avatars can very easily emulate their real life counterparts. Player’s have been able to create their own players just like these one-of-a-kind players and can be borderline unstoppable when playing online. Will Otani be able to surprise me and break video games by making the “two way” player the most desired role in baseball video games, or will he fail to live up to his hype in both real life and in video games?

 

Do you think Shohei Otani will break video games and become a one-of-a-kind player, the likes of which we have never seen before, or will he underwhelm us in the real of video games? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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