Thursday, February 26, 2009

MLB 2k9 - Franchise Mode

As Bill noted, I got MLB 2k9 mailed out to me yesterday. This worked out well since I was home to oversee the floor repair and I was able to spend the afternoon letting the game sim out a few seasons while getting a little work done. (I have NOT played a single game on the field as of yet.) There's some good and bad here, but the short version is that if you want to play multi-season franchise mode the game is absolutely 100% borked. Broken doesn't begin to describe it and after reading about the 2k Conference Call and their claims of making franchise mode a major focus, that's just flat out unacceptable.

So before I get to that, I'll point out what I like. First and foremost, the stat engine from simmed seasons is fantastic and it appears to hold up as time goes on. League leaders in major pitching and hitting categories is very consistent with actual 2008 data. You don't have whole teams hitting .300+, doubles and triples numbers are right on line, you will see only a couple of 20 game winners (if that). I did see one season where there were two 20 game losers, which is very unusual, but not so much that it should bother anyone. I didn't look at numbers below the top 20 players in any given category, but I'm satisfied with what I'm seeing.

I also like that they stick player drafts in the off-season between re-signing your own players and signing free agents. I don't recall how drafts were handled last year, but this year players are not just rated on their base attributes, but you also get a rating for how soon before your target is likely to be major league ready and you can also pull up a list that compares their ratings to nominal major league players at the same position.

Trades... trades are a mixed bag. I don't think they're horrible, and the AI does not appear to kill season play by overtrading highly rated players. In fact it looks like trades of upper echelon players are very rare. That said, for the trades the game does make, it looks to me like the game mostly looks at overall ratings and not much else. Age might be factored in, but I'm not sure positional need is considered strongly enough, nor does it look like the game values its starting pitching as strongly as it should. I'm positive that the game does not give much consideration to salary, unless you think the Rays would trade the Tigers two young, talented players making $5M combined for Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield making a combined $23M (approx.).

Beyond this, the game goes right off the rails. Worst among the issues are the fact that free agency is flat out broken. It looks like teams lack the budgetary savvy to sign big time players. That or big time players don't properly adjust their contract demands to league realities. Either way, upper tier free agents frequently and consistently go unsigned and if they don't get signed during FA it does not appear that they'll ever get signed after that. This has a cascading effect over multiple seasons. After one season you might see 3-5 premier players go unsigned. After two seasons that number will double. And double. And double. By the end of  season 5 the list of absolutely lights-out free agents that languish on the golf course instead of suiting up to play is just ridiculous. This, alone, is enough to kill the franchise mode for any season beyond 2009.

Teams are also incapable of managing their 25-man roster. I looked through a quick roster report of most teams at various points. You'll routinely see teams maintain just a 10-man pitching staff, and a few will go with only four starters (at least officially; maybe they're using a MR for a fifth starter?). You'll see a lot of teams carrying a ridiculous number of catchers, three, four, in one case I saw the Yankees carrying *5* catchers. Seriously, what is that about? Did each starting pitcher need his own guy behind the plate? So, in addition to teams often not carrying enough pitchers, you'll see situations where a team may only have three or four outfielders or too few infielders, etc. It's crazy.

Finally, I'm pretty sure player development is also crudded up, but I'm not sure how much it really matters in the game. Let me a 'splain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up. (Like I'm capable of that. I just wanted to use that Princess Bride line.) In the 2009 season it appears (I didn't go over rosters with a fine tooth comb, so I reserve the right to be wrong) that the elite players in the game are in the 85 - 92 range. There are plenty of teams with no 90-rated players at all. Over time those ratings just keep going up (they can go down, but that is evidently not the overall trend). By the end of season 5, there were several 99-rated players and most teams had 90+ rated players for their entire top five.

What's odd is that this doesn't appear to affect stats. It's like the game has players perform on a curve so that the top whatever percent perform to a certain standard. I'm not sure this is how it should be, since you could argue this makes it so player development doesn't really matter. But it does at least keep the stat engine from breaking down, which I think is probably more important.

So... yeah, uh. MLB 2k9 may be a fantastic game on the field. I have no idea yet. As a 2009 season sim, it should also be -at the very least- servicable. But if you like to actually play a franchise, draft players, sign free agents, etc. It's broken. Save your money or pray for a patch. Or, you know. if you have or plan to get a PS3, put your money down on MLB: The Show. If it has anything close to the franchise issues in 2k9 I would be absolutely floored.