Last Friday, Out of the Park Developments released the 21st version of their massively popular baseball simulator, Out of the Park Baseball. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy and decided I would take it for a test drive and then report on my findings. For those who just want the BLUF (bottom line up front), this version of the game does not disappoint. It is better still than any previous version. For anyone looking for a baseball simulator, the people at OOTP Development have once again raised the bar, setting the gold standard. This is not to say that others, especially Baseball Mogul and Strat-o-Matic aren’t fine simulators as well. They are. But once you start to mess about under the hood, there simply is no real comparison.
When you launch OOTP 21, things seem pretty normal. You have your typical choices, including the option of participating in online competition with other baseball simulation devotees. The bottom option of showing more modes of play is critical. This allows for two very important alternative modes of play. The first, is to allow players of OOTP 20 to import their saves from that title. The second alternative mode allows you to create a series or tournament populated by historical teams. That simulation Jim is running, pitting each historical Diamondbacks team against each other in a bracket tournament, that’s what this allows. Want to see how Murderers’ Row stacks up against modern teams of “tiny” players being large by 1927 standards? You can do that. (Spoiler alert: The 1927 Yankees stand up well against essentially everyone thrown at them. Having six Hall of Famers on a team will do that.)
Looking at the opening screen, I felt instantly at ease. This is what one expects when loading up a baseball simulator. Straight to the point, no muss, no fuss. Satisfied I was in the right place, I launched a new game.
Whoa. That’s a lot of possible leagues. I don’t think I know enough about Czech baseball to dive into simulating their league just yet. I’ll stick with MLB. Once you select which league you wish to participate in, you get to see the teams associated. You also have a few more choices available to you. You can choose to play in Commissioner Mode, which allows all sorts of control over the game, including allowing the player to make hard-and-fast team and player edits. Or one can choose to play without the almighty deific power. If one chooses to be a mere mortal, then they still have the choice whether or not to serve as GM, Manager, GM and Manager of a team, or to start off unemployed. That last is for those who want to “prove” to simulated front offices that they have the chops to run a big league franchise by performing well in the minors. For those not working their way up the ranks, there is also a tick box that can be checked to prevent the owner from firing the player. Fun times!
Playing the Game
I decided I needed no protection from Ken Kendrick and anointed myself Mike Hazen’s boss and also took over in the dugout. The game pops up to a fairly typical
Included in the dialog in the top right is a friendly hint that if one is new to the game, there is a helpful tutorial to check out. Nah! I’m doing fine so far. I got this. As one would expect, virtual Ken Kendrick has some career goals for me. Much to the chagrin of man pitters, the most specific task is to extend Jake Lamb to an extension before the end of the 2021 season. I’m not a big fan of that particular “request”. I think I will simply take it under advisement while I see how Lamb performs.
Taking a quick look at the roster throws me for a bit of a curve. Clearly, the virtual front office was under the influence of something when they developed the 25-man roster. Somehow, Yasmany Tomas, Kevin Cron, and Christian Walker all inhabited the roster. Jimmy Sherfy made the cut in the bullpen, as did Kevin McCanna. Yoan Lopez, on the other hand, was left languishing in AAA. So was Merrill Kelly, along with Alex Young, Jon Duplantier, and Taylor Clarke. Taylor Widener was in AA. Most of the Diamondbacks most well-known prospects were assigned to some odd minor league choices as well. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. When you take over as General Manager, you get the fun times of controlling the entire franchise pipeline. This pipeline includes an international complex, an unassigned pool of developmental players, and each team in the pipeline, from Rookie League in the AZL, up through MLB. That’s a lot of teams and a lot of roster choices. Don’t forget to make sure you have hired and assigned a manager, pitching coach, and hitting coach for each team as well.
For those who ignore the minors entirely, focusing only on the MLB club, just wait until it is the beginning of July and there are 55 minor leaguers on the IL and the starting pitchers in A+ Visalia have 17 starts to go with 215 IP. They still have half a season to go. Yeah, the minor leagues are important.
So, I went through and made some edits. I went ahead and let Mr. Sherfy stay, at least for the time being. The rest of my roster was essentially the same as Michael McDermott’s 26-man roster prediction. After that, I set my rotation, and created my depth chart. I set a starting lineup for facing right-handed and left-handed pitching, both with and without the DH. Then, I decided enough tooling about was enough. I jumped right in and launched the season.
What? Strarling Marte is out 2 weeks?! I haven’t even played a game yet. Oh, Spring Training. Yeah, I forgot about that. Okay. That’s fine. He’ll be back in time for the season. Simulate until Opening Day, please. March 24, 2020 – Merrill Kelly strains his shoulder, he will miss five weeks. Ugh. Really? Fine, off to the 15-day IL for Kelly. Taylor Clarke, welcome back to the Majors as a middle reliever assigned to avoid high leverage situations. Now can we start the season? Great, thanks.
Opening Day has arrived. I navigate the typical screen of confirming my starting lineup and launch the game.
This is the one place where someone might ding OOTP 21 as far as being a baseball video game. It is important to note here that this is a simulator, not a traditional video game. As such, there are no epic graphics depicting the sweat pouring off of Robbie Ray as he fires home a 96 mph fastball. The game graphics depicting each play are simplistic as they come. Still, they get the point across. If I want a video game experience, I’ll borrow someone’s copy of MVP Baseball 2021.
At this point, the player has granular control of the game. The player can choose any amount of micro-management, from pith-to-pitch, to simply simulating the entire game. I went ahead and let the simulator just play out the entire game and then checked out the results.
Later, as the season progressed, I would have the game simulate multiple games at a time. If no GM decisions came up, it would play out and let me know the outcome, without having to go to the in-park game screen. It simply based lineups off of my previous assignments on the depth chart, including giving players rest based on my guidelines. After a while, I found I needed to take a bit more of a hands-on approach. I found that the team did better if I simulated each game with me going by half innings or until runners were in scoring position, depending on if I was on the mound or at the plate.
By late May, Jake Lamb was not pulling his weight, so I traded him. Once again, the interface was great. It even includes an option for me to shop a player and set differing criteria on return offers. A player can also create a list of team needs to be posted, creating incentive for other virtual GMs to offer a trade.
I shopped Lamb and wound up picking up a decent reliever on a decent young reliever with at least one option left. I assigned my new middle relief depth to AAA-Reno.
I played out the rest of the season. I lost Nick Ahmed for the season very early on because of injury. Luke Weaver resembled the struggling starter that he was in St. Louis. Zac Gallen looked like a blossoming ace – right up until he strained his elbow and missed eight weeks. Just before Gallen came back, Bumgarner (who was depressingly average) was lost for 11 months. Hector Rondon stunk up the joint. Junior Guerra started off as my best non-closing reliever, but went down to injury in June. Archie Bradley and Jimmie Sherfy were the team’s two best relievers. It wasn’t even close. Carson Kelly and Ketel Marte both made it to the All-Star Game as starters. David Peralta batted ,350 on the season. Mike Leake stunk. Christian Walker regressed pretty heavily, but was still a slightly above average bat. A.J. Pollock got hurt in June, missed six weeks, and still finished with the second-best season of his career.
I made some trades. I ran the draft room on June 4th. That took a while, since there are all sorts of scouting reports that can be sifted through. I promoted Daulton Varsho and Andy Young to the Show and was rewarded for my faith in the youth movement. Despite all this, I finished with only 79 wins on the season. Ken Kendrick was not amused. Not only did I fail to provide a winning season, but I chose to shop Lamb instead of extending him. Apparently this was not a polite suggestion. I found myself wishing I had protected myself from being fired. As it was, I didn’t get fired, but I was put on a short leash and given a tight budget to move forward with.
Remember way back when, at the top of this article, when I scoffed at reading/viewing the manual? Yeah, I don’t recommend that as a matter of course. With so much going on under the hood and with so many options at every turn, the learning curve on this game is a steep one. It is not so much that this game is difficult to figure out. It is more a matter of being prepared for all the little things that need attention and making sure that all the ducks are in a row before moving forward. Statistics are heartless and unforgiving. They also control how the game plays out. It only takes missing one or two fine points here and there for bad outcomes to begin snowballing. On the other hand, for those who pay attention to detail and invest the time, it is possible to make fate favor the prepared mind. Of course, there’s no preparing for having Michael Conforto as a decently paid right fielder going 0-for-31 with 1 RBI and 16 SO in 38 plate appearances through the first three weeks of the season. Some things just suck. But hey, Seth Beer won Rookie of-the-Year replacing Christian Walker at first in 2021. You win some. You lose some.
I have not messed about yet with the online play. I have spoken at length with two who have though. They both assure me that the online play kicks the entire game up several notches, turning this into a true fantasy baseball machine.
The amount of control one can exercise over nearly every aspect of the game, from ticket prices and organizational personnel, to calling for a run-and-hit with a speedster on second, a wild pitcher on the mound and a poor arm behind the plate, to setting seven-day lineups and complicated depth charts, is amazing. All of it is laid out in a friendly, easy to use interface. While there are literally hundreds of decisions to be made, each one is laid out clearly for the player to evaluate and the process for executing decisions is self-evident. Next up for me, I will be creating a player from scratch and dropping him in the minors to see if he can get a call to the Show. Well, right after I fill out my Hall of Fame ballot, since OOTP 21 also simulates a typical offseason, including individual season-based awards (which the player can vote on). When the winter meetings roll around, I’ll probably be looking to unload the last half of Bumagner’s contract. Hopefully, the real-life MadBum does not resemble the aging veteran I wound up with on the simulation I ran for this article. Hopefully, he’ll resemble the one from my second simulation, where he finished the season with a 134 ERA+.
A Final Bonus
Now that we have taken OOTP 21 for a test spin and figured out what some of the game decision quirks are that need to be addressed, we here at the Pit will be simulating the 2020 season, beginning to morrow. Each day we will be running the simulation and doing a daily recap of the results. If we can get it working, there will even be a simulation stream. If that runs the way it is anticipated, we may even have a gameday thread to follow the stream, with one or more of the Pit staff providing commentary as the game unfolds. Check back tomorrow for details on how the simulation will be presented.