Honestly, I'm not sure what label applies to it, really. It definitely is not a super-easy difficulty setting, as Sony's San Diego Studio promised. But it's more of an experience skinned over a regular exhibition game, as opposed to a set of exercises or a list of tasks to complete.
To recap, Beginner Mode grew out of developers' desire to chip away at The Show's intimidating reputation, not only to newcomers, but also to veterans who found some aspect of it difficult. This typically is hitting, an art that requires a ton of patience, something a video game experience rarely fosters.
With Beginner Mode turned on, you'll play a nine-inning game regularly. The pitchers' and hitters' behavior will be different depending on how far along you are in your progress. I was handed the controller to play Detroit versus the New York Yankees, switching sides between innings to hit against C.C. Sabathia (announced Thursday as The Shows second cover candidate, joining Washington's Bryce Harper) and Justin Verlander. You can apply Beginner Mode to any matchup involving any two teams.
As you progress in rank, your opposing pitcher—whoever he is—will introduce different pitches and locations into his delivery. At the beginning, you get nothing but fastballs down the middle. Then you get fastballs moved around the strike zone, but still inside it. Then it's fastballs plus another pitch, still in the zone. Once you see all the deliveries a pitcher can offer, then he starts throwing outside of the zone.
The point is to introduce you, in a safe environment, to the timing you'll need to get around on Verlander's heater, and then see it next to a curveball, or a slider, or another pitch. When I ranked up to get Verlander to start throwing me a breaking ball, I recognized it as soon as it left his hand, and, knowing this would be in the strike zone, I smashed the hanging pitch into the bullpen.
I'm of two minds on whether I really learned anything, though. The pitch confidence display was turned on, which showed me that demolishing Verlander's curveball also dinged his ability to throw it effectively. So it suggested to me that as you cuff around a pitcher at lower levels, you put him on a downward spiral in what he throws you, which could rank you up to a higher hitting difficulty before you're really ready for it. I'd rather face a consistent performer doing consistently the same thing to train my batting eye to each situation.
All the features of a normal game are present—including the "guess pitch" feature, if it's enabled. If you know that only the fastball is coming, and you guess it to add extra power to your hit, then the experience is open to abuse. It'll be incumbent on a beginner not to do such things.
As a pitcher, I'm not sure what beginner mode does for you, other than maybe stupefy the hitters and gradually make them tougher. I didn't see any structured progression telling me where and how to vary my location or pitch type. No setup inside/go outside, no fastball-fastball-curveball, no "going up the ladder," so to speak. Worse yet, I threw Austin Jackson a fastball apparently where he likes it most—low and inside—and he clobbered a leadoff home run against me.
Beginner mode is a nice thought but I'm dubious of it as a workshop you can revisit to tune your game. It is useful to help a beginner or someone returning to the series set his timing; the adjustments San Diego Studio made to timing, giving it a wider window of opportunity, were indeed stark. I'm usually a little late with my swing, trying to detect what I'm being thrown as it arrives. Here I could see the difference in Sabathia's 2-seam fastball and still blast the thing.
What San Diego Studio wants to do is have Beginner Mode advise you on an appropriate difficulty setting once you reach a certain mark. So, once you reach, say, level 40, you're advised to play at All-Star difficulty (the third of five settings). You might then return to a beginner mode game later to push your All-Star hitting knowledge into Hall of Fame.
But the range of recognizable pitcher behavior and tendencies seems limited enough that you'll see all of that by the time you're rated for Veteran difficulty. In my mind, after that the only difference in hitting in this mode and in a real game would be that you're graded on it. As for pitching, it may be that I already do a lot of that well, but I'm just not seeing what feedback Beginner Mode has to offer it.