Full confession. I’ve been playing Out of the Park Baseball (or OOTP for short) since about 2010. It’s one of the few computer games that I actually play on a regular basis and, although I’ve seriously cut my playing time back, I still am active in an online league.
This game keeps getting better and more realistic, particularly for those of you who follow the minor leagues. This review will be in two parts. First is a game review that talks about the game itself, how to play, the mechanics of it and second part will look at how it simulates the Blue Jays and their 2016 season.
I simmed a 2016 season with as close as possible rosters to what the club was playing with at the time I started my season (a few days after the start of the season). I also tried to start the season with the minor leagues set as close as possible to the minor league rosters as the Jays had them set up to start the year. I probably wasn’t as active in the promotion/demotion category of the minor leagues as I could have been but was active enough and some surprising results came out of the season sim.
If you’re new to the OOTP series, it is the most realistic and immersive management simulation game for baseball. Set your rosters, trade for players, sign free agents, hire your staff, set your ticket prices, draft your minor leaguers, and on and on. It can probably be a little bit overwhelming at first but this game has become easier and easier to customize how much micromanaging you want to do. Don’t want to set your team’s lineup? Get your manager to do it. You can delegate minor league management to your assistant GM. You can ask your scouting director’s assistance when it comes to your draft and it can leave you to focus strictly on building your major league roster. That said, it’s probably not wise to delegate too much because it might cause issues down the line.
If you’re playing in a regular mode, you’ll have an owner who gives you a series of goals. I’m sure that your ability to achieve these goals makes a difference in the long run as to whether or not (or when) you get fired, but I didn’t play long enough to get to that point.
There are several ways to play OOTP. One is to just jump in to the 2016 season as the GM (and/or manager) of one of the 30 big league teams. You step into your new job/role and guide your team to domination and the World Series over years and decades, building your minor leagues. Another way to play is to manage in one of the other major or independent leagues around the world including the Japanese and Korean major leagues, the Cuban professional league, Dutch or Italian leagues or even the North American independent leagues. You can play in a world with any or all of these leagues, leaving you to pick up players from the independent leagues and outbid the Japanese league for free agents. One of the highlights for me is to be able to manage a complete minor league system from Triple-A all the way down to an international complex (where players improve but don’t play games) as well as the Dominican Summer League.
Another game mode is the historical simulation. I, personally, rarely use this but for aficionados of the history of the game, what could be better than simulating the 1927 Yankees, the 1994 Expos or 1992 Blue Jays?
Probably the most immersive way of playing OOTP is to play a fictional game, creating your own baseball world. You can imagine an alternate reality where Europe became a hotbed of baseball after World War II and set up a high-level pro league there that competes with MLB or even supersedes it! You can play in a world in which MLB doesn’t exist and come up with your own team names and cities in any country or region. You can put your own rules into the game and configure it in an almost infinite number of ways (although they probably have to have been used at some point in the big leagues). If you don’t like the DH, don’t use it. If you want to make the DL 21 days, go ahead. If you want to have 20-man rosters, you can. If you want to have residency rules and limit the number of imported players, you can do that too. It takes some practice to find the right balances, particularly for the finances, but there are some pretty cool leagues out there and people will share them on the OOTP website. You can even design your own logos and mod them into the game (there’s a robust modding community for OOTP, like with many games).
The last main way to play the game that I’ll talk about is online play. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of online OOTP leagues and they range from established leagues, started on previous versions of the game and brought up to date as new versions come out, to new leagues starting up with OOTP 17, using the current rosters, to fictional leagues. If you play long enough, all leagues eventually become fictional. I ran a league that I had to fold as my own free time began to wane but we were a regular “Major League” game that started back in the 2011 season and, by the end, had updated the game from OOTP 12 to OOTP 15. It’s simple. You just get 29 of your closest friends (or, more likely, strangers) who all have the game to join up. Then, once the league is created, you set up a website (there are services to help with this) and all players will upload their roster changes and download the new league files after every simulation. For me, this is the most engaging way to play, primarily because you’re competing with 29 other real people as opposed to just trying to unload dead weigh contracts on the AI.
The game has gotten better at simulating and scouting over the years and they’ve even added a 3D engine so that you can watch games happen. Unfortunately, the level of interactivity in the played-out games are not to the level of a video game that you might get for a game console. That said, it’s better than OOTP has had in years past but it still feels like the players are too generic. If OOTP is going to approximate the level of realism present in football manager games, more accurate player movement on the field will be necessary. Since this is only the second year that the 3D game representations have been a part of OOTP, it’s still very much a work in progress.
Over the past few years, the additions and upgrades have been a little more on the cosmetic side of the game. OOTP 17 now has licenses from Major League Baseball and the MLBPA, meaning that you don’t have to install user-designed and uploaded logos to make the game feel more authentic. On the surface, these are the biggest changes but they have also done some more “under the hood” like using ZiPS projections to create their player ratings and adding the historical minor leagues for 1919-2015 (which, when trying to simulate games in the historical mode, had been frustrating when the historical minors weren’t present in past versions of the game).
There have also been small tweaks to the way that you can manage the game and how much you can delegate. Managers have “personalities” although you can still set strategies and other GMs will have trading tendencies, tending to either trade more or less. Additionally, there have been improvements in AI when it comes to roster management, trading and dugout decisions.
There are a few pet peeves I have with this game that still haven’t been addressed. The first is that the bonus mechanisms for the draft and the international signing period aren’t quite reflective of the current CBA. They’re decent approximations and they’ve gotten better and better in the past few years but they’re not there yet. I have also yet to see the Japanese League posting mechanics done the way it works too. However, these small issues are just minor things that do little to harm the overall playing experience.
To test out this year’s version of the game, I simmed a year in the life of the Blue Jays. How did the Jays do? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. I didn’t play out any games in the 3D broadcast simulator (see photo above). That game mode allows you to play manager, making substitutions, deciding to steal bases, whether to pitch around a big slugger, how to play your infield or outfield defense, and many other decisions. While this mode of playing OOTP is the only way to play for many people, if you’re going to simulate an entire season quickly (within a few days), it’s just too time consuming. I simulated one day at a time, rather than just “auto-simming” the whole season at once, or even a month at a time. I addressed all injuries myself and didn’t hand any of the day-to-day running of the team off to any of my coaches. I did, however, ask my bench coach to set my lineups and pitching from time to time.
The season wasn’t without its challenges. Injuries were the worst of it. Josh Donaldson strained his shoulder on April 12 and was hurt for 5-6 weeks while Matt Dominguez was called up to take his place. Franklin Morales was lost for 14 months at the end of April and Aaron Loup, who had just come off the DL, was brought back to the big league club without any rehab time. Chris Colabello injured his knee, missing about six to seven weeks and Rowdy Tellez was the biggest beneficiary of that injury, getting the call to the majors at the beginning of May. Jose Bautista lost a couple of weeks at the end of May, beginning of June. At the beginning of June, with Ryan Goins wasn’t doing much and he was sent down in favour of Devon Travis who, in the game, had returned to health.
While Justin Smoak was doing well, he was deemed expendable thanks to the emergence of Rowdy Tellez. After getting an offer from the Phillies for Smoak, I renegotiated, sending him to the Phillies for 18-year-old shortstop prospect Arquimedes Gamboa (who tore up the GCL, primarily as a second baseman) and reliever Edubray Ramos. Ramos, 23, started off in Triple-A but ended up becoming one of our best relievers. Ramos came to the bigs for good on July 7 after Bo Schultz was demoted for sucking.
Marco Estrada was another major loss who had a stretched elbow ligament in the middle of July and will be gone until early in 2017. His injury opened the door for Drew Hutchison to return to the majors. Roberto Osuna lost 2-3 weeks in August and Aaron Loup landed on the DL yet again with a bone spur in his elbow at the end of August, putting him on the DL for the season and giving Wade LeBlanc (who I just saw pitch very well in Buffalo) a big league job. Our September call ups: Dalton Pompey, Joe Biagini (the game couldn’t handle making him a Rule-5 pick and applying all of those limitations unless the draft is done in-game, apparently), Roberto Osuna (who was on a rehab assignment in Buffalo) and A.J. Jimenez.
We also signed a couple of players to extensions. The owner wanted Brett Cecil extended and I got him to sign for two years at $4.74 million with a third season as the same rate on a team option. Jose Bautista was much more reasonable than his real life counterpart, agreeing to a three-year deal worth $73 million. The first two, paying $27 mil and $26 mil are guaranteed while we gave Jose a $20 million player option for 2019.
So how did we do? The Blue Jays finished 94-68, winning the AL East by 8 games over the Red Sox. We had the best record in the AL but there were two NL teams with over 100 wins (with the Mets having the best record in baseball and, yes, Syndergaard was a beast) and our record would have barely gotten us the second wild card had we been in the NL.
The Red Sox won the play-in game over the Rangers and we beat the Red Sox three games to one in the Division series and Jose Bautista was the series MVP.
The LCS was tight with Houston but, in the end, we lost in six games, mainly because of injuries to Russell Martin, Drew Storen and Edwin Encarnacion (yes, I’m going to blame it on injuries). Pillar was our best hitter in the series, hitting .414 (but not taking a walk) while Michael Saunders and Josh Donaldson had good numbers (although JD didn’t go deep). Bautista hit two home runs in the series. We only had Edwin for two games and Josh Thole hit only .200 for the series. The Cubs won the World Series, beating Houston and Kris Bryant was the WS MVP.
How did the players do?
Tulo: .308/.358/.529 30 HR 7.2 WAR
JD: .274/.342/.503 26 HR 4.9 WAR (489 AB)
Edwin: .280/.379/.489 31 HR 4.6 WAR
Pillar: .278/.312/.431 14 HR 19 SB 4.4 WAR
Jose: .251/.367/.522 36 HR 3.3 WAR
Martin: .233/.322/.387 18 HR 3.1 WAR
Saunders: .247/.336/.422 17 HR 2.9 WAR
Devon Travis: .263/.304/.437 12 HR 1.9 WAR (391 AB)
Rowdy Tellez: .283/.323/.478 13 HR 0.9 WAR (247 AB)
Smoak: .284/.355/.495 5 HR 0.5 WAR (109 AB)
Dominguez: .254/.290/.381 (118 AB)
Thole: .313/.343/.403 (67 AB)
Carrera: .252/.306/.383 (115 AB)
Barney: .262/.316/.383 (141 AB)
Pompey: .213/.255/.380 (150 AB)
Goins: .211/.246/.359 (128 AB)
Colabello: .227/.299/.378 (299 AB)
Stroman: 17-7, 2.90 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 203 K, 5.8 WAR (220 2/3 IP)
Sanchez: 15-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 182 K, 4.1 WAR (199 1/3 IP)
Estrada: 6-7, 3.63 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 103 K, 1.8 WAR (109 IP)
Dickey: 15-9, 3.78 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 169 K, 1.6 WAR (221 1/3 IP)
Happ: 9-13, 4.40 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 115 K, -0.5 WAR? (184 IP)
Chavez : 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHP, 103 K, 1.1 WHIP (122 2/3 IP)
Storen: 2.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 78 K, 1.3 WAR (75 IP)
Cecil: 2.99 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 86 K, 0.5 WAR (72 1/3 IP)
Ramos: 1.97 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 37 K, 0.3 WAR (32 IP)
Osuna: 38 SV, 4.02 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 83 K, 0.2 WAR (65 IP)
Floyd: 3.96 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 35 K, (50 IP)
Loup: 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 50 K (44 IP)
We won two “Platinum Stick” awards (the Silver Slugger) with Tulowitzki winning at SS and Bautista winning at RF. I won manager of the year in the AL, Marcus Stroman won the Cy Young (shortly after signing a big contract extension worth over $100 mil) and Tulo finished third in MVP voting (behind Carlos Correa and Mike Trout).
1.Max Pentecost – .261/5 HR/39 RBI – Dunedin
2. Richard Urena – .297/20 HR/96 RBI – Dunedin
3. Jonathan Harris – 3.87 ERA/126 K – Lansing
4. Connor Panas – .307/3 HR/24 RBI – Lansing
5. Sean Reid-Foley – 3.87 ERA/126 K – Lansing
6. Conner Greene – 3.94 ERA/123 K – Dunedin
7. Ronald Concepcion – .227/0 HR/18 RBI – DSL
8. Freddy Rodriguez – .322/3 HR/44 RBI – Bluefield
9. Matt Morgan – .262/7 HR/21 RBI – Bluefield
10. Arqiumedes Gamboa – .340/2 HR/28 RBI – GCL
11. A.J. Jimenez – .270/5 HR/52 RBI – Buffalo
12. Shane Dawson – 5.73/103 K – NH
13. Matt Dean – .295/1 HR/ 36 RBI – NH
14. Clinton Hollon – 5.22/54 K – Lansing
15. Bryan Lizardo – .295/1 HR/36 RBI – Bluefield
16. Garrett Custons – n/a
17. Owen Spiwak – .278/0 HR/4 RBI
18. Juan Meza – INT
19. Justin Maese – 8.24 ERA/13 K – Bluefield
20. Justin Shafer – 4.48 ERA/85 K – Dunedin
OOTP 17 is available on Steam for $39.99.
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