Review: Out Of The Park Baseball 9

From Zimmer’s Base Ball Game in the 1890s to Strat-O-Matic and All-Star Baseball in the 20th century, fans of the game have tried to recreate their love with accurate simulations.

Now that many of these table tops where the games of yesterday used to be played now hold computers, it’s only natural that the board game and dice sims of yesterday now share space with the electronic sims of today.

Enter Out Of The Park Baseball

This is the ninth incarnation of Out of the Park, or OOTP as it is more commonly known. Programmed by Markus Heinsohn and backed by a knowledgeable community of supporters, OOTP has evolved into one of the best sims, if not the best, available.

One of the reasons OOTP is at the top of the sim pile is because it can be played just about any way you can imagine. You can begin a game and just sim until your heart is content. Or you can take over a real MLB team and pretend you’re Charlie Comiskey or George Steinbrenner with control over contracts, ticket prices and a final say over the rosters. Or you can name yourself a manager and call hit and runs and pitch outs in individual games. Or you can create an entire league from scratch with new cities and fictional players.

There seem to be thousands of ways you can play this game. And for the most part, all of them seem incredibly realistic.

Rewrite History

No other sport values it’s history like baseball. And OOTP has gone to great lengths to pay tribute to that feature of the game.

In previous versions of OOTP, to sim the game beginning in 1900 (or a similar distant year) was a painstaking endeavor. That’s because nearly everything had to be entered manually to ensure historical accuracy. Financial coefficients needed constant adjustment so Ty Cobb wouldn’t be making $15 million in 1910. New teams had to be created to account for expansion and players had to be manually moved from team to team to fill the rosters in what was kind of a bastardized expansion draft. And stadiums had to be constantly modified to ensure the huge old ballparks of yesteryear didn’t stay in play in the modern era.

You get the idea.

Now that problem has been solved.

The game comes with the entire history of the game already coded, so the manual manipulation is no longer necessary. For example, it knows that the Dodgers and Giants moved west in 1958 and the leagues expanded in 1961 and 1962 and automatically makes the adjustments (if you desire) when you reach that moment in history. There’s even a nifty expansion draft where current teams protect a certain number of players so the new teams can fill their rosters.

But the real fun in the historical sims is rewriting history.

In my first sim, I turned off injuries and enabled the current rules regarding service time and free agency. Yeah, it’s kind of cheating but after running a couple of these and losing Lefty Grove to a torn hamstring or Cal Ripken to a bum shoulder, you begin to miss the presence of the classic Hall of Famers. Keeping the finances set to the rules of 2008, is just something that is kind of fun. Sam Crawford is in his free agent year, where will he go?

I began in 1901 and imported historical stats from 1871 to 1900. Using the Lahman database, the import is a snap and OOTP has really made great strides in improving its performance. It takes almost no time at all to configure the league and get things rolling. To add new players every season, I held a free agent draft every January, so the weak teams from last season would have first crack at potential HoF talent the next year.

For ease, I decided to sim in 10 year increments. I just wanted to get a feel for how the numbers would shake out from some of the better known players. There is nothing stopping someone from picking their favorite team and managing that team in 1901, 1950 or whenever. You can manage the 1961 Yankees with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, or you can release all the players from their rosters and hold a draft to distribute the talent.

The further along you move in a historical sim like I was running, the slower the sim becomes. It’s understandable considering you begin with 16 teams in two leagues and one round of playoffs and end with 30 teams in six divisions and three playoff rounds. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is certainly noticeable.

By the time my sim ended in 2007, I found some fun revisions to history.
{exp:list_maker}Ty Cobb was baseball’s Hit King with 5,283 hits. Pete Rose is 17th on the list.
The Giants have been in the post-season more than any other team. They made 27 trips and won nine championships.
The Pirates have the most titles of all teams with 12.
Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame. That’s probably because he won 367 games, which is fifth all-time. He also threw a no-hitter in 1973 and was the NL Cy Young award winner in 1985.
George Brett was drafted by the Phillies, while Mike Schmidt went to the Royals.
Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are number one and two on the all time home run list.{/exp:list_maker}
And on and on…

Some of the numbers are skewed because the game imports players from the beginning of their professional contract, so the players begin their major league career immediately. You can get around this by enabling the minor leagues.

Another thing I found was the game seems to favor hitters. For example, in my game there were 20 pitchers who struck out over 3,000 batters in their career. In real life, 16 pitchers have topped that mark. That’s pretty good. But for hitters, the numbers seem to be a bit skewed. For example, in my game a whopping 47 batters have joined the 3,000 hit club. Compare that to just 27 who have reached that plateau in real life. And home runs, as you might expect, increased to the point where in my game, 11 players have more than 600 bombs. Despite the explosion in hits, their wasn’t a corresponding rise in career batting average in my sim. In my game, just 14 players own a batting average of .330 or greater. But in real life, 33 hitters have topped that mark.

And I’ll just overlook the fact that in my sim, Brian Giles finished his career with a 1.004 OPS.

But the nice thing is while it appears the game is favoring hitters, I can make some tweaks to the hitting modifiers and maybe pull in the reigns a little. Or I can just let it be and see if something similar happens in my next sim.

It’s all up to me.

2008 rosters

In what has to be a huge selling point, OOTP now ships with the Opening Day rosters of all teams from the majors on down to Single-A. In fact, it’s packaged as a “Quick Start” where all you have to do is press a button and it builds the database for you and you’re ready to go. Again, you can pick a team to manage or you can just sit back and let the computer do all the work.

I should probably issue a spoiler alert, but here’s how OOTP sees the 2008 season finishing.

Go crazy, Tampa!

Overall, that looks like an acceptable sim, doesn’t it? With 109 wins, the Mets are the class of this league. Maybe the Wilpons got their hands on an advance copy last weekend and realized their team was underachieving. The Mariners win the AL West (like some of us thought they would), but in the sim they somehow hit .276/.333/.412 as a team. I thought their pitching was supposed to carry them, but their team ERA of 4.22 was better than the league average of 4.34, but ranked them sixth in the AL. The White Sox finished dead last in the AL, which means I can expect an email from Ozzie Guillen at any moment. And note how the top players performed. Josh Hamilton led the AL in home runs and Lance Berkman let the NL in OPS.

The only problem I had in playing a 2008 season was a bug where the Twins Francisico Liriano is both retired and on the Twins active roster. It sounds minor, but for some reason this bug means Liriano starts every game and never accumulates any stats. And because he starts 162 games, all the other Twin starters likewise remain without stats. The developers are aware of the problem and they have issued a manual fix.

Reports, Splits and Authenticity

The real power of the game lies in the various reports you can generate along with the depth of the statistics.

Reports include team power rankings and a list of top minor league systems. For added authenticity there is a Baseball America top prospect list and Baseball Prospectus’ Under The Knife injury report.

The stats are, in a word, outstanding.

Splits, game logs, and batting vs. pitchers for the hitters. Pitch count, opponents batting splits and Game Scores for the pitchers. All stats are sortable.

They even have Range Factor for the fielders.

The only thing they’re missing is BaseRuns.

Given the depth of the stats, it’s a little surprising they have yet to incorporate any kind of graphs into the game play. While simming historical seasons, there have been times where I notice a race where the title is decided by a single game in the standings. It would be nice to have a graph plotting out the progress of the divisional races, because once the season is over, there’s no way to see how the race for the title unfolded.

New features include a Milestone Watch which tracks players as they close in on 3,000 hits or 300 wins. They also have incorporated a screen identifying current “Hot” and “Cold” players and now keep track of hitting streaks.

To keep you on your toes, there’s the disabled list, drug suspensions, Rule 5 draft, option years and arbitration hearings. You move players between teams in your minor league system and manage your 40-man roster. It’s an amazingly complete replication of major league baseball. If nothing else, it makes you appreciate just how difficult it is to be a general manager.

It’s worth noting that this is mainly a text based sim. While there are some graphics such as player photos and team logos, the words and numbers are at the heart of this game. And this is where the sim has made huge strides. The play by play commentary from single games is brief, but with just enough color to make it exciting. The individual games come with sound, which is a nice touch—especially the organ. And the news articles are extremely well written and believable. In past incarnations of the game, clunky text of the news killed the “realism” for me to the point where I stopped reading the messages in my inbox. That’s no longer an issue.

The verdict

The variety of play, ability to customize leagues and the depth of stats make this the best computer baseball sim I have ever played.

This is literally a game you can fire up at the end of a long day at work and then 10 hours later you realize you haven’t eaten since you got home and you’re due back at the office in another couple of hours. (Having said that, I’m going to be “offline” for a little while. Once you take over the Royals in this game, you begin to appreciate exactly how much work has yet to be done.)

I’ve been waiting for a game with this combination of depth and realism for a long, long time.

The previous incarnation of the game won several awards and was crowned PC Game of the Year by Metacritic. This version is better.

Make space on the trophy shelf. I have a feeling more Game of the Year awards are coming your way.

Positives

{exp:list_maker}Customization
Real players (finally!)
Depth of stats {/exp:list_maker}

Negatives

{exp:list_maker}No graphs
Slight bug with 2008 roster set {/exp:list_maker}

References & Resources
OOTP 9 is published by Out Of The Park Developments and retails for $39.99. It is available for Mac or PC and is available here.

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