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June 2, 2014
Out of the Park (OOTP) Baseball 15
My experiences with Out Of The Park Baseball began early, as I was a young fan of baseball sims. I started with What If Sports and moved around to a few different ones before settling in for a long and meaningful relationship with OOTP. I have a long relationship with video games, as I grew up a child of the 90s; before baseball took a firm hold of my heart, Sega and PlayStation dominated my childhood. The transition to video games and baseball was a natural one for me, as I wanted to emulate the players I revered.
My mentality shifted and I gradually became more interested in the executive level of baseball, as decision-making based on player evaluation became more alluring. I read Moneyball, and I wanted to be Billy Beane. OOTP gave me that opportunity.
The latest edition, OOTP 15, further advances what I fell in love with in the earlier editions. For long-time players, the usual feel is still at the heart of the game’s engine, and the new version adds some bells and whistles. The 3D game simulation was an interesting wrinkle that shows promise for future editions. The game engine is much smarter, the variance is much wider, and the game has improved.
Below are some reviews of different facets of the game: Rob McQuown tackles the gameplay and GM game engine from his point of view, and Mike Gianella adds in his thoughts from a fantasy player’s perspective.
As for my thoughts, this is a specific game that should appeal to you if you like the idea of running a baseball team. There are a few different ways to play, including one where you start at the bottom and try to climb to the top. For me, the game remains the best baseball sim there is.
Since I’m completely new to this product in 2014, my perspective will be that of one walking around the elephant—not that of more experienced users who have past seasons' experiences on which to build. Keep in mind that almost from the first splash screen, it’s clear that mastering all aspects of this game will take months, if not years. Given years of following real-life baseball, however, my expectation is that most things will work much as they do in real life.
And don't be fooled by the fact that it's not set up for ease of real-time matchups, this simulation engine is definitely designed to be used by multiple people, ideally in a league context (as with a fantasy league, a group of friends can draft teams of players of their choosing and then play simulations against each other). The amount of control available to manage the game “by hand” can also be “programmed” to get the computer manager to do what you want! For those circumstances that aren't covered exactly by your choice of settings, the game's AI makes refreshingly good choices, and these are even influenced by the choice of the manager and coaches you (as GM) hire.
Then, under the theory of “hire good people and let them do their jobs,” I let my computer manager, e-Don Mattingly, set the lineups and pitcher usage rules (rotation and bullpen usage). About this time, it sunk in that without Hanley, the non-1B portion of my infield had become: Justin Turner, Chone Figgins, and Dee Gordon. And what’s that old dog Mattingly thinking, batting Gordon leadoff?! Seriously, though, the lineups seemed quite realistic, despite being AI-generated. And the computer’s in-game moves followed expectations.
Okay, time to press the reset button—this is becoming a game of “figure out how to exploit the AI trading logic,” certainly enjoyable but probably not very informative. Considering the big-picture items, it seemed like playing a few seasons would make sense. I started off slow; I restarted with the Dodgers and I tried to auto-play a month. First thing that happens? Carl Crawford out for the season with an injury on Opening Day! Given his recent injury history, this is no surprise, of course. Still it’s going to mean adjustments—at least there’s almost a week between games two and three for the team this season, and taking two from the D-backs in Sydney was nice. Meanwhile, my Inbox is flooded with reports of things like top 100 lists and Logan White finding another hot prospect in the Dominican Republic… And the Rox traded away Morneau; didn’t they just sign that guy?!
Greinke beats the Padres 2-1 for his second win. Ho-hum. It’s nice going into the “regular season” with a 3-0 record.
Well, it’s March 31, and the plan to auto-play has been slow getting started. I see a report that the M’s signed Kendrys Morales. Good—was worried the Rox would pick him up after shipping Morneau out in that shocking trade. The early season is much more active than the real-life early season, with players such as Bud Norris and Michael Morse being traded on April 2. Kershaw is announced as being at least two weeks away from returning, which seems typical for pitcher injuries.
Trying a week of auto-play, I received a message saying: “BRONZE ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED”: On a Roll (Winning streak of 7). These Dodgers seem to be as good in a sim as they looked on paper heading into the season. The game continues to wow with the almost overwhelming amount of detail that is built in. During the week, one of the announcements was that an owner died, for example!
I went on like this for a while, autoplaying a day or a week, looking at standings and box scores and even game logs from MLB, Triple-A, and all levels of the minors. By default, the game doesn’t save box scores from anything but MLB, but how can you micromanage your Low-A team without looking at box scores and game logs? Once the interface is mastered, getting to the details you want becomes very quick and convenient—the designers definitely had end-user experience in mind when designing the UI. Of course, mastering it takes a few trial-and-error clicks, but—yes, this refrain again—there’s so much detail in here that it cannot be helped.
A couple months into a season, I became somewhat overwhelmed at the amount of information information which is available to the sim-game player (a partial list), and had to take a break. This is a “good problem”! Here is an incomplete list of what I can view about my league with “Jim Smith” at the helm of the faux Dodgers:
Scouting reports on all the players from the perspective of your team's “scout” (who you can replace via hiring decisions at any time, though who would consider replacing Logan White?), including details as morale, multiple aspects of defensive skills (e.g. infield range, infield error, infield arm, turn DP, second base, shortstop), multiple aspects of batting skills (e.g. contact, gap power, home run power, eye/discipline, avoid K's). And every rating comes with a current and potential listed … all based on the subjectivity of the cyber version of your team's scout! There are more dimensions to the scouting reports, but they really have to be seen to be believed (there are dozens and dozens of screen shots of the game conveniently arranged on the OOTP site). If tracking minor league players is your passion, this game is ...
Wait! There's more... Enough simply cannot be said about the detail available here. The same exact detail is available on amateur players entering the June draft (in my league, there are three players whose potential is the maximum five stars—one of them has a bonus demand of $8.5 million… sometimes, perhaps, a simulation can be too realistic). Ditto for international players who can be signed.
Once you have players in your system, an important benchmark of a healthy team is how well players develop and grow. Guess what? That's tracked by OOTP as well, for each player.
Did I mention finances? Well, the goal of a good General Manager—from the perspective of most owners—is to make money while providing a quality product. For my first review, choosing the Dodgers gives essentially limitless finances, with the freedom to boost ticket prices much higher than other teams. Of course, the expectation is a championship every year. Without getting into expense accounts and budgets for office supplies, the simulation considers almost everything involved in team revenues— incoming and expenses. Unless you checked the “can't be fired” option, staying in the black is important.
Like most children who loved baseball at an early age, my first exposure to baseball simulation gaming was Strat-O-Matic. I was in a few leagues with my friends, but they never shared the same passion that I did for the tabletop game so ultimately I wound up playing out entire seasons by myself. Since my parents didn’t want me staying up until 4 a.m. every night or dropping out of school to do nothing but play Strat-O-Matic, I ultimately settled on playing out full seasons for individual teams, not entire leagues. It still satisfied my thirst for baseball without forcing me to run away and move into an abandoned mine shaft so I could be free of the shackles of parenthood.
OOTP (Out of the Park Baseball) 15 takes the joy I derived out of playing simulated baseball as a child and amps it up to the nth degree. The game can be as complicated or as “simple” as you want it to be. Interested in running a season long simulation where you just press a button and see the year-end results? Sure, OOTP can do that. Want to play a full game where you make play-by-play decisions and you are the manager for every single play? Sure, OOTP can do that as well. If I had the time and wasn’t merely writing a review, I would have ideally set up a custom season with as many bells and whistles as possible, but instead I decided to play some generic seasons and take the game for a simple test drive or two (or three; the game turned out to be very addictive).
I decided to take the most thankless job in all of baseball: the General Manager of the 2014 Mets. After testing OOTP to see if it would let me make ridiculous trades (no, the Marlins aren’t trading Giancarlo Stanton for a bucket of baseballs), I was able to make two logical trades, flipping Wilfredo Tovar to the Dodgers and freeing them of Andre Ethier’s contract and then moving Ike Davis to the Pirates for some much needed middle relief help in Tony Watson. More needed to be done, but I thought it would be fun to see how the season played out. I then made a modest, one-year contract offer to Stephen Drew at $3.5 million and he accepted. Now I had improved my offense considerably and just needed to add a starting pitcher.
I finished my offseason trading by swapping out newly signed Chris Young to the Cubs for Jason Hammel. At this point, I wanted to try out some of OOTPs auto functions, so I let the game automatically set the major and minor league rosters to see how things shook out. Matt Den Dekker—not Juan Lagares—made the big club. Instead of simply fixing this, I’d let the game play out for a few days and see how the Mets did.
At first, I started out letting the game auto play for a week at a time. The game does this well, running through every game in the majors and minors and generating stats, news, etc. for the full week. Any injuries are reported quickly and other teams’ trades show up in a handy inbox feature, along with other significant news.
It only took me 10 games (at 2-8) to start behaving like any other beleaguered GM in the Big Apple and start making moves. I flipped Anthony Recker to the Orioles for David Lough and promoted Juan Lagares up for Andrew Brown.
This seemed to help (or did it? One thing these games tend to do is turn you into an emotional, illogical fool…something that years of thinking about things analytically was allegedly supposed to cure). Shortly after the deal and the move, my Mets went on a five-game winning streak. Still, after 25 games, “I” was a mere 11-14. Then David Wright went down with a groin injury.
Injuries! OOTP even simulates the inevitable injuries that will break your heart. I knew I should have taken that Ben Zobrist and Joel Peralta offer from Tampa Bay in March. And peeking at the league leaderboards, I see ex-Met Ike Davis is tearing it up for the Pirates and leading the league in home runs. Anguish! Agony! Heartbrreak! I decide to make another trade, flipping some small pieces for Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams.
I enjoyed seeing what the game simulation would throw my way on the trade front but if you don’t like this feature, turning it off is simple. I left it on just so I could get a trade offer every week or so asking for Brandon Nimmo as a throw-in. Real life GMs are just as bad as the guys in my fantasy leagues, apparently.
The amount of information OOTP generates is staggering to look at. I could have spent a month poring over statistics. This is another improvement over my childhood days playing Strat-O-Matic. I used to have to put all of these stats together by hand; now OOTP simply did all of the heavy lifting for me. Better still, even though I was only playing for my Mets, OOTP generated stats for every other team.
OOTP even allows you to draft players in the First-Year Player Draft. As one of the few non-dynasty league writers at Baseball Prospectus, I had little interest in performing this activity, but this sounds like a dream if you like 40 round player drafts as much as Bret Sayre and his team seem to like them.
I’m not going to bore you with every single detail from my simulated Mets season. Let’s just say that I have a little more sympathy today for Sandy Alderson than I had before I started playing. OOTP’s Fred Wilpon spent a lot of time telling me that there wasn’t enough money left to make the trades I needed to make to put me over the top. I finished 79-83.
In the end, OOTP had the same effect on me that the childhood tabletop games did. The good news is that while I gave away my summer to those games as a kid, playing a full season of OOTP can be as intensive or relaxed as you want it to be. I feel like my experience was only just the beginning of my exploration of the game; I can’t wait to play another season and really dive into all of the more advanced features of being a mock general manager.
Editor's Note: This article previously stated that online gameplay is not a feature of OOTP. It is in fact available in OOTP 15, and the review has been revised to reflect that.
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @Mike_GianellaBP