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May 8, 2015

Staff Review

Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) 16

by Matt Sussman, Tucker Blair and Mauricio Rubio

As you would likely expect, there are quite a few members of our staff who enjoy the Out of the Park (OOTP) baseball series. Three of them have graciously offered to play hours and hours of the game in order to have an awesome time share their experiences with you, the readers. This is their journey.

Gameplay & New Developments

The beauty of the OOTP franchise has always been the non-linear concept. You don’t start at Level 1 and try to get to 100. You can create any type of baseball league your heart desires, and every year the developers bake in additional concepts that they hadn’t been able to do before. For example, this year they finally have rainouts. The game has always included rainy conditions and mid-game rain-delays, but OOTP16 is the first one that will actually postpone games and schedule doubleheaders.

Loading the game for the first time, my five-year-old Mac laptop took longer than I had hoped (it fits the system requirements), but from installing the program to loading the files initially, and finally to loading the season … this took about 15 minutes. (Note: During the review period, there was an update to the program that tackled OS X slowness, and it was a noticeably positive fix.)

I started by loading a standard game, picking the Tigers, setting the scouting ratings to 20-80, putting the minor-league functions on auto-GM (Dave Dombrowski is MY assistant, remember that), then watching the Opening Day game simulation.

Something that I completely overlooked was the ability to be just the general manager, or just the manager, or both. By default, it was always both, but playing GM-only is my favorite way to go. Maybe one of these times I’ll play as just the manager, then do some serious hand-wringing when a trade goes through that I can’t stand.

One of their biggest features, at least cosmetically, is the in-game simulation showing 3D ball trajectory. Compared to OOTP15, when it was first shown, it operates and feels considerably more natural. Compared to what it could be, they can still improve on it—perhaps by incorporating tiny fielder avatars scrolling toward where the ball may drop, so as to create real drama. As neat and real as the ball path is, in-game watching is a personal habit I only satisfy for times my team makes the playoffs. Everything else gets simulated. (Which, again, is what makes the game so robust and special: Build your own path!)

The owner has traditionally given you, as the GM, a goal, and that goal was usually so many wins: Either have a winning record, reach the playoffs, reach the World Series, or win the whole thing. Another new twist is varied short- and long-term goals. In the case of the Tigers, Mike Ilitch wants them to go at least .500 (which, ick), re-sign David Price, sign a hometown player (does Prince Fielder count?) and win a World Series in the next six years. Look, simulations of octogenarians are never perfect.

For fun, I enabled Commissioner Mode to see what some other goals were. For the Astros, Rockies, and Phillies, the win-loss goal was, and I’m not making this up, “Don’t suck completely.” Some others, mostly subpar squads, demanded the farm system be build up, upgrade a position in a couple years, or acquire an MVP or Cy Young Award winner in three years.

While the player pages remain largely the same, they did add award icons for all the players’ histories of MVPs, Gold Glove, All-Stars, and whatever else.

As much as these pages are useful, they also introduced what I can only describe as “quick pages”—hover over the player name on any page, and you get the basics in a flyout window, saving time and my trusted clicky finger. Over time, this became the best new feature.

They also threw a bunch of realism into the Hall of Fame voting. Previously, if you were a HOFer, you were labeled as such five years after retirement. Everybody was first ballot! Now they simulate “ballot voting,” so it will highlight the first ballots vs. the Alan Trammells. Real systems such as JAWS and black/gray ink appear on the Hall of Fame page too. Interestingly, Jason Kendall and Julio Franco each got 13 percent of the voting after the first year, then eventually dropped off. (And, spoiler alert: Eventually Bonds and Clemens get elected.) Better still, there were zero Hall of Fame arguments in the game, although I’m sure that will be a feature in a later version. All-Star balloting also has added realism, including monthly fan updates, but if I don’t care about in real life, what chance does the computer game have?

As the playoffs near, there’s a new “Pennant Chase” page, which basically summarizes the schedules of the remaining contenders. It’s a nice compendium with some useful data, such as combined record of remaining opponents. Added to the hardware list is Reliever of the Year and playoff series MVPs, as well as a more refined way of adding injury replacements to playoff rosters, which seemed pretty rigid in past versions.

(Not that it has any bearing on my review, but my Tigers season ended up with a World Series win, and Buck Farmer as the MVP. Buck Farmer. So much for the .500 expectation)

The offseason is probably more fun than the season anyway, because (a) you always feel like you’re making the right moves, and (b) you never lose games. Arbitration is the first step, and it seemed way easier to negotiate those team control players in one-year extensions. In previous years, they always wanted multi-year deals, so I’d let eight or nine players go to arbitration and cross my fingers. Now you can just agree to the midpoint and move on. The arbitration summary page also includes WAR and wRC+, making decisions a lot easier, and the whole arbitration process might be my favorite overall improvement, as niche as it may be.

There are still downsides, but nothing major. Sometimes I want the GM to auto-draft players once I get to, like, the eighth round, and then the GM will draft players with exorbitant signing bonus requests. One year, 13 of the last 20 rounds had “impossible” draft demands and I signed none, so I really should have fired his butt. Baseball cards also seemed to take a while to generate—which happens when they give out All-Star or regular season awards—so I disabled these.

There are, of course, features that remain absent but could always appear in future versions. Maybe they’ll simulate close calls and replay challenges. Perhaps they’ll throw in a World Baseball Classic. Maybe they’ll include female players at some point (Baseball Mogul had this feature years ago); you could modify this yourself by editing the names file, but the pictures will remain boyish unless you want to dive deep into the FaceGen rabbit hole.

And you can always make your own weird customized leagues. For example, you could make Sam’s All-Position Team bracket and see how that goes. Someone in the OOTP made an “arena baseball” universe where the outfield walls are close to home plate but super tall. Maybe you’d like to make the walls 1,000 feet away, creating a triples paradise. Maybe you want to simulate the Twins in with 29 Single-A teams, or expand Major League Baseball to teams all around the world.

The main takeaway from this version is they really made an effort to take all their new features throughout the years and organize them better with fewer clicks, better stats, and clearer options. From historical replay to experimental baseball, OOTP continues to provide all sorts of creative and competitive outlets for baseball fans, most notably harping on the core tenet of baseball: putting together a good team is really hard and you can’t just try to hoard the players with the highest ratings, or flip Quad-A depth for prospects. You’re going to suck at this, so do your best. Baseball doesn’t and shouldn’t have cheat codes. Well done yet again, and here’s to OOTP17. —Matt Sussman

Through the Scouting Lens

From a player development and scouting standpoint, OOTP is in a class of its own. My entire life revolves around the evaluation of tools and the projection of prospects, and OOTP16 has taken this development to the next level. I have a wild imagination, and it is certainly one of the reasons I have taken a passion toward player evaluation and scouting. I enjoy the unknown, and trying to find the known out of the unknown. Are you looking for an in-depth draft with dynamic tool evaluation and a realistic development process from the DSL to MLB? Well, OOTP16 might just be your game.

The ability to control the entire organization has been around for a while with OOTP, but the latest version has heightened our ability to truly control every aspect. There are a few features I mainly want to dissect, as they are the most intriguing aspects of the new version:

Dynamic Evaluation System

OOTP16 feels the most realistic yet, with players showing the ebbs and flows that naturally happen during development in real life. While a player may start out as a 50 OFP, he will drop to a 25 OFP if the scouting director does not like his progression. However, as in real life, players will rebound and boost their statuses. Below is an example of non-linear development on future big-leaguer Nick Shumpert:

As you can see, Shumpert was evaluated differently throughout his progression toward the majors, eventually settling in as an above-average player (54 OFP) for my squad in 2020. However, he wouldn't have made the majors without the benefit of coaching.

Coaching Changes

Perhaps the most exciting change in the latest version is the improved coaching system. Coaches now have roles and abilities that they “specialize” in. I hired the recently retired Miguel Cairo as my manager for the Delmarva Shorebirds.

Pitching coaches can also specialize in finesse or power pitchers:


This has been a strong addition to the game, and you can craft your entire development and coaching staff towards the type of team you are looking to field. I have always been a tools-first type of evaluator, so I have an entire coaching staff predominantly adept at developing power pitches and power hitters. My team whiffs more than Mark Reynolds on a bad day, but I did lead the league in homers the last two seasons.

International and Independent Leagues

While this is not entirely different from past versions, there are now new leagues added. The Australian League and a plethora of other independent leagues have been added to the system, and these can be integrated within your league so you can select and/or sign players from them. It happens in real life, so this was a welcome addition to a sim that already includes a majority of the baseball leagues in the world.

Overall

From a scouting perspective, OOTP16 is an 80-grade simulation. The intricacies and exactness of each player throughout the minors and within the draft is exceptional, and it is clear that the developers spent an exorbitant amount of time exacting the science for each individual player. The functionality of trading, the signing of international talent, and the draft have all been vastly improved since the last version. OOTP16 is the most realistic simulation game in the world, and sometimes I truly forget that it's just a game. —Tucker Blair

OOTP On-The-Go

It’s tough to make a mobile baseball game. There’s a hybrid arcade/sim game that I thought I was fond of until the overtly creepy dating side game took over the main story and made the career mode borderline unplayable. Most mobile baseball games are transient in nature—fine for a quick run through but lacking staying power.

OOTP’s Baseball Manager is a very ambitious attempt at the mobile baseball game genre. The overall aim of the game is to give you the OOTP experience, complete with minor league rosters and different game modes, all on your phone. While I dabbled in the fictional and historical modes, I primarily worked with the MLB version of the game. As such, this review will focus on the MLB mode.

Gameplay - 60

When you start up in MLB mode, the game takes you through a quick setup that feels cozy. It’s an upgrade over last year’s version of mobile OOTP, which overcomplicated things. The interface was uncomfortable and it felt too big for mobile. Baseball Manager does a good job of simplifying the experience and making it easy to navigate the menus you’ll need to fully manage your franchise. As with all games, there’s a learning curve but most players will be able to pick it up with relative quickness and ease. I have minor gripes with the transaction screens: It takes an extra step to call up rookies and make roster moves, but considering the game is on a mobile interface, this is just a quibble. The in-game management is fairly detailed for a mobile game and I’d give it a plus grade here. You can steal, bunt, bunt for a hit, do mound visits, etc., etc.

Simulation - 50

I played as the Chicago White Sox and hovered around first place before injuries destroyed my team. Jose Abreu went down for six weeks, Alexei Ramirez missed three weeks, I traded for Chase Headley and he missed a total of six weeks over the course of two injuries. I wasn’t crazy about the final stat lines. I think Chris Sale will finish better than the 3.61 ERA Baseball Manager gave him, and I think the injuries were heavy handed, but the simulation aspect was overall solid-average. The White Sox finished at 84-78, which is optimistic considering the injuries I sustained. I doubt the Sox could survive that particular onslaught of missed time.

Aesthetic – 70

I have to stress how pretty this game looks. Sure, it’s basically tables, but it looks and feels right. The navigation is easy after you get the hang of it (which won’t take too long). The design is simple, easy to read, and very aesthetically pleasing.

Overall – 60

This is a good game, especially in the context of a mobile port. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the mobile port, which is a significant departure from where I was with last year’s version. There’s repeat value here as well, so I can see myself playing this game over the course of several years. While the simulation aspect is just average, the fun factor is high. —Mauricio Rubio

Matt Sussman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here
Tucker Blair is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Tucker's other articles. You can contact Tucker by clicking here
Mauricio Rubio is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mauricio's other articles. You can contact Mauricio by clicking here

Related Content:  OOTP,  Out Of The Park Baseball,  Games

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