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Out Of The Park with the Rockies

The story behind few simulated playthroughs with our favorite team in the new version of the acclaimed series

I’ll admit I like spreadsheet-type simulator games. Out of the Park Baseball 18 is, hands down, the best one I’ve ever played baseball-wise... and I’ve played a lot of it. I started around OOTP 5 and have played pretty much every year since. The new version is being released today for Macs and PCs as well as being available on Steam, I was fortunate enough to get a preview copy earlier this week and have already given it quite a few playthroughs, just to see how our Colorado Rockies play out.

For those unfamiliar to OOTP, you take the role of a commissioner, general manager and/or manager of an entire organization down to the minor leagues, either as a single player or in an online league. You can choose any kind of team, including a historical team from the 1880s, a minor league team, a Japanese league team or a completely fictional team. The owner of that team will give you a set of goals and a budget that you have to adhere to. If you don’t follow them, you can even be fired.

Decisions on player transactions involve more than just dollar amounts, though; they also take into account the desires and personalities of those players. If a guy wants to play for a winner and your team hasn’t won lately, he won’t sign with you... and if he does and your team starts losing, he’ll make everyone else in the clubhouse unhappy.

Transaction rules, including the new 10-day DL, are replicated. I learned waiver wire rules just from playing OOTP. You also need to hire managers, coaches, scouts and trainers, each with their own traits. But that’s just an inkling of the kind of detail the game goes into. If you don’t want to play that deep, you can let the AI set up your organization, your lineups, or any other aspect you don’t feel like controlling. You can get down to the nitty-gritty of a pitcher’s slider rating or an outfielder’s arm quality, or use the handy 1-5 star rating that your scouts apply to each player. And if they’re not good, well-funded scouts (or you select the in-game option), the scouting might not actually be accurate.

Not only can you simulate at the macro level by auto-playing games and seasons, but you can watch and/or manage individual games play-by-play with all the tactical situations such as shifting and bunting that Bud Black might consider. Each ballpark is replicated not only visually but the park factors, metropolitan size and fan loyalty also can affect your decisions.

On that note, not only is Bud Black in the game, but the rosters are patched up-to-date with the latest statuses and injury news. As an example, Ian Desmond and Tom Murphy’s broken bones are represented. Chad Bettis is also out for four months to begin the year, though charitably, his injury is considered “Not Diagnosed”.

Before getting hands on with each new version of the game, I run through a few single season hands-off simulations so I could get a better idea of how the players actually “play”. Maybe it’s cheating in a way, but I chalk it up as “I’m roleplaying like I’ve had the analytics department run projections.” The fun thing about OOTP is that there’s just enough unpredictability where, while some things act standard, sometimes the dice rolls give hilarious results. That’s what the first season simulation brought me as the Rockies finished with a .350 winning percentage. Oh, the carnage was glorious. Gerardo Parra led the team with a .877 OPS, David Dahl was injured six times and my predecessor’s rebuilt bullpen was traded off by the end of June. Jairo Diaz, doing his best (or worst?) Jumbo Diaz impression, ended the year as the closer with an unsightly 8.11 ERA. To add further injury to the insulting season, Chad Bettis came off the DL just long enough to take an arrow to the knee, the torn ACL ending his season. #Thatssorockies

The other simulations were better, but the Rockies remained a losing team that posted a .420-.450 winning percentage. The pitching underperformed significantly and first base was a black hole. Other position players seemed to be OK. Behind the plate, while Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters had different star ratings based on future potential, they put up similar seasons in terms of WAR though they gathered it in different methods. In all the seasons I simulated, the player who consistently did poorly offensively and defensively was Desmond but his contract status encouraged the AI, just as it would a real manager, to play him. Surprisingly competent was Jordan Patterson, bringing a good bat while splitting time between first base, left field and right field. The most consistent player was Carlos Gonzalez, who was rarely injured for long and generally posted the same offensive statistics each runthrough. Pitching-wise, the simulation liked Tyler Anderson a lot and Jeff Hoffman did well out of the bullpen but Jon Gray was barely decent and Adam Ottavino was pretty erratic with high K rates accompanied by high walk rates.

Apparently, other OOTP owners noticed the Rockies issues and the developers came out with a patch that helped the Rockies pitchers out a bit. OOTP is constantly seeking feedback from their active community, many of whom have played in online leagues for years. I ran a few more simulations after the change and the Rockies did get better pitching-wise, especially from Gray and the bullpen, though the team still floated around a .450-.480 winning percentage.

I decided it was time to get my hands dirty, but I wanted to keep things somewhat realistic and not be a power-gamer. I decided to not trade off any players acquired during the offseason like Desmond and did my best to keep the trades realistic. I took on the role of GM, having all say in roster and operations decisions, but allowing lineup, pitching staff roles and in-game management default to Black and/or bench coach Mike Redmond. One stylistic difference between the two is Black’s AI tended to hit CarGo second in the lineup while Redmond’s preferred LeMahieu. I went with the latter’s recommendations. Owner Charlie Monfort also set three goals for me: “Extend Carlos Gonzalez, make the playoffs in four years, and try not to completely suck.”

Even though the Rockies’ pitching had improved with the patch, Bettis’ injury really affected the rotation. Based on the previous simulations I had run, it seemed rookie pitchers like Hoffman and Freeland weren’t playable until they had some Triple-A time. So, with payroll room of about $6 million (thanks, Ian), I set some search criteria to find out what quality cost-controlled starting pitchers other teams were interested in trading, while trying to keep some budget room for playoff push moves. Lo and behold, Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer was available.

But Archer was pricey in terms of talent and got even more expensive when I tried to unload Gerardo Parra’s contract to offset Archer’s cost. The OOTP AI is smart enough to demand more talent to take on a poor contract. With him as a poison pill, the Rays wanted Story or Dahl which wasn’t the kind of move I was looking to make. I decided to see if they’d take Brendan Rodgers and that got the conversation started. I saw they also had prospect Casey Gillaspie, a first baseman who I liked because he had good defense and was a switch-hitter with on-base and slugging ability, so I added him in the deal. That wouldn’t fly with Tampa, so I bit the bullet and added Ryan McMahon (since I had Steady-nado on the team) and Dustin Garneau. The four for two deal was done. I realized when I was done that I ended up pulling a Shelby MIller-esque trade, so I get points, ominous as they may be, for mimicking a real life trade.

As the season started, Jason Motte complained that his contract was about up and he wanted an extension. I, on the other hand, didn’t want him, but I also didn’t want friction in the clubhouse because I ignored his request. I also wanted to clear some roster and payroll space. With Gillaspie and Patterson around, Mark Reynolds also became superfluous. So I packaged Reynolds, Motte, Cristhian Adames, Parker French and Willie Abreu for Neftali Perez and prospects Kyle Wren and Mauricio Dubon.

CarGo wanted a contract for four years at $20 million a year. I offered him $20 million a year for two years with a player opt-out clause in the third year. He’d been a steady performer in my simulations, I figured he’d value the opt-out year (and take it) and I didn’t have any high minors outfield depth but I guessed I’d have a decent replacement ready by the time his contract was up. I was glad he accepted it.

I started the season on auto-play since I decided to let Black control the lineups, stopping every few weeks to check the stats and see if I needed to make a tweak or two. Black made Murphy the starting catcher which was fine by me and did a good job moving Jordan Patterson around the diamond to give players the day off. Gillaspie, however, was struggling so I sent him to Triple-A to work out the kinks and crossed my fingers that either Desmond wold figure it out or Black would sit Desmond. The team was winning games though and seemed to be on track.

In the middle of May, I noticed Charlie Blackmon was uncharacteristically having a bad season and his defensive numbers, not great to begin with, had fallen. With the goal of improving outfield defense by playing Tapia, Dahl and CarGo regularly and to get some more room in the budget, I shipped him off along with Antonio Senzatela, Anthony Bemboom and Huascar Brazoban for top Cubs prospects Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario. I figured the Cubs rookies would give me chips for a deadline deal if I needed to make one. You can laugh if Senzatela makes the major league team this year, but he wasn’t making the team in OOTP. On the other hand, Blackmon had herniated disc issues after the trade with the Cubs so perhaps I was correct that for this simulation at least, he was declining.

Things were looking good on June 24. The Rockies were 44-30 for a .595 winning percentage, tied with the Giants for first in the NL West ... then Jon Gray tore his labrum and was done for the year. That’s what I get for keeping him on the roster with a sore shoulder! Black promoted Hoffman from emergency to full-time starter. Five days later, Hoffman also went on the DL with an oblique strain. In full-blown panic mode, I sent Happ off to the Diamondbacks with some minor league non-prospects for Taijuan Walker to try to stop the bleeding. Yet, the Rockies’ infamous summer swoon was well simulated; the team went 10-19 in July, falling nine games behind the Giants and getting leapfrogged by the D-backs. Even though I’d built up to $12 million in budget room, I didn’t find a player with a good contract worth spending it on. With an eye towards 2018 like the responsible GM I was pretending to be, I traded away Tyler Anderson,who had stumbled to a 6-6 record with a 6.04 ERA, for some minor league prospects.

It’s a good thing I decided to sell as the team continued to get worse. On Aug. 12, Hoffman’s season ended because he needed surgery for a bone spur. Twelve days later, Tapia was down for the count with a fractured rib. My Rockies finished the year 83-78 for a .516 winning percentage, coming in fourth place in a surprisingly competitive NL West, which the Giants captured with 100 wins.

Chris Archer ended up being my best starting pitcher, but it says something for a season when Chris Rusin ends up being your second-best starting pitcher in terms of quality and durability. Lineup-wise, Gillaspie rebounded from Triple-A to become the first baseman I wanted. Unfortunately, Desmond ended up being the first baseman I didn’t want and once Tapia went down, became the centerfielder by default. After 114 games, Desmond had a .709 OPS and a -0.1 WAR, in line with the other OOTP simulations I had run. Dahl battled through three injuries to lead a quality offensive team in OPS at .945 through 120 games while chucking in stellar defense. Walker, my last gasp to save the season, flew low with a 7.57 ERA as a Rockie... maybe next year, right? Archer... Gray... Walker... three young aces one can dream on and a fledgling Pint waiting in the wings.

Perhaps I could have still won the season if I did a Trader Jack impression. If I had controlled the daily lineups and rotations, I could’ve grabbed a few extra wins by forcing Desmond into the supersub role that the simulation suggests he should be. Maybe starting the season with Hoffman as a starter would’ve avoided injury... or maybe he would’ve flamed out like he had in my other simulation runs. The injury bug had a lot of fun with the dice rolls, often picking on Dahl, but teams have survived worse. Still, I had fun using a semi-active playstyle that I hadn’t used before. I built a team that had a winning record and improved the farm system depth while staying within the budget. I also didn’t completely suck (Boss Goal: Completed) and that playoff goal is just around the corner. When I hands-off autoran the 2018 season, the Rockies won the wild card, though they got bounced by the Cubs. Walker was second on the team in ERA but on a sad note, Gray managed only 30 innings. Recovering from injury is hard, even in a computer game.

I hope you enjoyed this story. That’s what has kept me playing OOTP through the years. Each time you play the game, your involvement creates a story. You get attached to those computerized versions of guys like Tony Wolters or Jordan Patterson who do a good job rolling the dice for the league minimum. If you play out 20 years of seasons, as I have, you can see the prospects you traded for develop into superstars, make All-Star teams and get voted into the Hall of Fame. You feel sad when the rock of your team ages out or becomes to expensive and you decide that he has to go.

Whether you want to micromanage or kick back and let a lifetime of baseball play out while catching up on Game of Thrones episodes, Out of the Park is whatever baseball challenge you want it to be.

Out of the Park is available now. I highly suggest you check it out.