Baseball is predicated on the idea that you can do everything right and fail anyway.
It’s the only sport that could produce Harvey Haddix, a solid pitcher who on May 26, 1959, touched otherworldly perfection. On a rainy day, Haddix pitched a no-hitter for 12 innings straight. Nobody remembers them. They remember the 13th, when an infielding error broke up the perfect game, intentionally walked Henry Aaron, and then Haddix gave up a home run that eventually was ruled as a double. After 12.2 innings of perfection, he lost 1-0. The papers called him Hard Luck Harvey.
I thought about Hard Luck Harvey a lot during my hands-off demo of MLB: The Show 20. They were keen to show me a new hitting feature called Perfect-Perfect, where dots appear in the batter’s box. Aligning them perfectly with the pitch will trigger the best possible swing, complete with the best possibility on that now all-important hitting metric, exit velocity.
The Perfect-Perfect icons show a player’s chances along three lines—home run, line drive, and grounder. A little like an intricate combo in a fighting game, getting a Perfect-Perfect delivers a hugely satisfying, unique crack of the bat that will wake up anyone dozing off in the stands after a beer and a hot dog.
There was just one problem: actually pulling it off. Although the SIE team assured me that they’d done it loads of times before, they consistently came up short. When we finally got one, the crack was noticeable, but he was out. The pair of representatives then brought up a scenario they had seen earlier: Mike Trout, baseball’s best hitter, had gotten a Perfect-Perfect only to line out in the infield.
While chasing Perfect-Perfects might be fun for competitive players and could make for great YouTube compilations, the defensive changes in The Show 20 will likely matter more to most players. Most intriguing to me were the Extreme Catch Indicator and Throw Meter, two new additions that meaningfully simulate an outfielder’s decisions.
Like a Perfect-Perfect, an Extreme Catch Indicator might only come up a few times a game. But on a sharp line drive to the outfield, the fielder is suddenly presented with a decision: let the ball land, allowing the hit and a safe throw, or to go for glory and the out with a diving catch. The outcome will depend on your player’s defensive abilities as well as variables like the current score, inning, and the speed of the players rounding the basepath. Just like in a real game, you have to decide quickly.
The Throw Meter should feel familiar to previous Show players, and it finally adds a degree of difficulty to fielding that has been there for pitching and hitting all along. Hitting a Throw Meter in the green means that, on a throw from the outfield to home plate, the ball will hit the catcher square in the chest, just like your Little League coach taught you.
Having success pay off in subtle physical moves is a welcome addition in The Show, and it shows up elsewhere too. First step animations, showing outfielders making their initial move to get under a ball heading their way, have been individualized so that defensive superstars like Cody Bellinger or Jackie Bradley, Jr. get their due.
Nothing’s been completely overhauled in The Show 20. There have been countless refinements, from more complex relationships with teammates in career mode, to a refined selection of moments in the “just the good stuff” mode, March to October.
I didn’t get much from the biggest change, Perfect-Perfects, but from what I’ve seen, all the little improvements add up. The defense is more realistic and more of a challenge. The refinements make themselves felt slowly, over the course of a game or a season—just like baseball itself.
MLB The Show 20 comes to PS4 March 17.