You don't have to be a baseball fan to understand how last night's game between Boston and Oakland was an historic occurrence: A pitcher threw with both arms in a Major League game. Pat Venditte of the A's got six outs with both hands, allowing no one to score. Is baseball's premier video game, which prides itself on realism, equipped to handle this?
The short answer, for those who don't follow baseball and/or don't play it on a gaming console, is no. You may now move on to other subjects, unless you're curious of how far "simulation-quality" sports video games are willing to go to live up to that. Because in MLB 15 The Show on PlayStation 4, PS3 and PS Vita, Venditte would require tons of special programming, the same way Venditte requires his own rule in real-life professional baseball.
Let's start with Venditte who, at 29, is at an advanced but not necessarily uncommon age for someone making his major-league debut. Venditte was drafted in 2008 after a four-year college career in Creighton during which he regularly used both arms to pitch, at one point stringing together 43 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
After Venditte was drafted, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation issued a new rule regarding pitchers intending to use both arms in the same game, or against the same hitter in the same plate appearance. There are all sorts of technical requirements, and you can even see a big misunderstanding about it here, in last night's game.
The reason for the rule, and for the pitcher to declare which arm he'll use is because the hitter facing the pitch — particularly switch hitters, who are vastly more common — has a right to know which side they're facing.
The righty-versus-lefty matchup can seem like another one of baseball's pointilistic, statistics-obsessed orthodoxies, but even two decades after playing high school ball, I can tell you it is real. Facing a pitcher of the same handedness, a batter will see less of its trajectory as the pitcher's arm starts over or behind the batter's front shoulder, even the periphery of his vision for a sidearmer.
Accolade's Hardball! on mid-1980s PCs may have been the first video game to impart this difference, even though its pitching perspective — the first to look like a TV broadcast — came from behind the pitcher. It was still difficult to see the ball's path, from a left-handed pitcher's hand, sweep to the edge of the screen and across the white jersey of a left-handed batter, on the way to the plate, moreso than if the same hitter were facing a righty.
So, straight away, MLB 15 The Show would need to build not only the means for a human player to select from which side he wanted to throw before and during each at-bat, it would need to create a computer logic for making those changes in a game against a human player.
Multiplayer games would introduce another nightmare of coding, and not just because of the fixed pitching perspective they require for two human players. MLB The Show's ranked online play has for three years now implemented rules governing the use of pitchers, meant to reflect real-world fatigue and the fact you can't use the same starter day-after-day in real life. But what if you started Venditte as a lefty one day, and a righty the next? This is one of dozens of possibilities the game would have to account for, all for just the second player out of tens of thousands in Major League history since 1900 to throw with both arms.
Then there's the pitching motion. While there are hundreds of distinct pitching animations in The Show; Venditte would mean one player would need to incorporate two. Watch this Vine. There are many variances, but the biggest is in his follow-through.
From the left, Venditte's left leg sweeps over his plant (right) foot at the conclusion of the pitch. From the right, his drive leg stops short, in a wide stance, even picking up on the follow-through. If Venditte was an all-star in his fifth year, this would be noticed. In fact, I'm sure Sony San Diego is dreading the idea that Venditte becomes an all-star in his fifth year, for what it would do to their game.
True, you can mirror any throwing motion in MLB 15 The Show, even for existing, real-life pitchers. If you want, you can go into The Show and make Justin Verlander a southpaw right now. (You can also give Clayton Kershaw the throwing motion of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.) But MLB 15 The Show doesn't even have animations to account for the oddball appearance of a left-handed catcher or shortstop — both of which, while supremely rare, have appeared more frequently in the past 115 years than a switch-handed pitcher.
It's not just in the fidelity of the animation. From that Vine above, I can't tell what Venditte's dominant side is. Both are strikes. The left-handed pitch is 83 mph; the right, 86 mph. Venditte's talents need to be rated for each hand. MLB The Show has split ratings for how a hitter does against left-handed or right-handed pitchers, but it doesn't have ratings for how one pitcher himself performs left- and right-handed, for simple fact 1/30000th of the population going back 115 years would need such differentiation.
Bringing Pat Venditte to a video game shows how he really is two pitchers in one.
The least problem, incidentally, is what kind of glove Venditte would use. In real-life, he carries a six-finger glove that can be worn on either hand — although it isn't in MLB 15 The Show, which introduced licensed equipment for the first time this year.
Venditte in a real-life game is one performer, one roster spot, one contract. Trying to bring him to a video game shows you how he really is two pitchers in one. He already introduced a layer of complexity to the rules of professional baseball. He would introduce even more to the code governing its digital representation, for a guy who, despite his novel talent, may not even last two complete seasons.
MLB 15 The Show, for example, doesn't have a delivery to accommodate Carter Capps of the Miami Marlins, whose foot-dragging, delayed motion became the talk of baseball when he was called back up in April. And Capps appeared in 82 games over three seasons before this one. But even giving Capps his own animation (or this, the ultimate righthanded screwball motion, God dammit, I've wanted this for years) would be shades easier than implementing a switch-pitcher.
So it will be interesting to see what happens this Monday when the next online roster update comes for MLB 15 The Show, and what side of the mound the game gives Pat Venditte, pitcher for Oakland. The unofficial, fan-edited rosters that Operation Sports puts out — which include the unlicensed players in the minor leagues who have yet to join MLBPA — put Venditte as a lefthander.
In-between games, even Franchise or Season-mode games, players may switch Venditte (or any other pitcher) to a different hand if they like. They won't be able to do it mid-game, mid-inning or mid at-bat (where in real life he is allowed one change, with other rules for injury further complicating matters.)
Even in 2015, Venditte's true value to a team is unique — the player whose skills aren't replicable anywhere, in real life or a video game.
Roster File is Polygon's news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.