I recently read a review about Out of the Park Baseball over at The Warning Sign, a magic pocket of the internet where you can find movie discussion, beer reviews, and occasional forays into baseball talk. After I asked a few questions, Eric- the wizard who creates beer, baseball, and movie content- put me in touch with the OOTP people to give it a go. I’ve been a baseball replay game nerd since I was 10, but I’ve also been very brand loyal to Strat-O-Matic baseball. However, their refusal to create a Mac-friendly version of the game has left me without a baseball replay game for a few years now. In other words, the time was ripe to give OOTP a try.
Since I’m a replay guy, and since I haven’t had a chance to replay the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals’ season thanks to Strat-O-Matic’s non-Mac stance, 2011 seemed like the perfect place to begin. I’ve been dying to play that season ever since I woke up with the hangover to end all hangovers on October 29, 2011. And so I started setting things up for my test run of OOTP. This meant setting up the automatic lineups, the actual transactions, and turning off the bells and whistles that would be unnecessary (more on this in a minute). But before diving into my 2011 replay, let’s talk about my impressions of the OOTP gameplay. Some observations:
It’s amazing how much can be done with OOTP. As an SOM user for 26 years, I wasn’t used to detailed pitch counts, setting the infield and outfield defense manually on every at-bat (and pitch), having a pitch-out option, and having your pitcher throw over to first. As of the last time I played SOM, they either don’t offer those options, or offer them in greatly diminished capacities.
Moreover, OOTP is great for fantasy leagues and GM mode. Users are allowed to set up their replay in such a way that players age naturally, there are organizational financial considerations, and there’s a draft-and-develop component. I didn’t touch any of this stuff because it’s frankly not why I play these games but I think it’s cool as hell that they offer it.
Speaking of players aging naturally, OOTP uses Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA to develop their player rating system. There are probably two of you reading this right now who know what the hell PECOTA is, so let me explain. It’s Baseball Prospectus’ advanced system for projecting a player’s growth and decay based on any number of factors. It was designed by Nate Silver (hey, y’all know him, right?). I LOVE that OOTP uses PECOTA.
I also LOVE that OOTP tracks many advanced metrics. At any point in my 2011 replay, I could see WAR, VORP, and even BABIP for any player in the league. It also tracks OPS+ and ERA+, though I admit it wasn’t as easy to find these advanced metrics. It’s one of the small gripes I have about the game. Once I figured it out, it became moot anyway.
So much of the game can be regulated and I’m not sure if I was regulating too much or not enough or just the right amount, but I spent most of the replay wondering. That is 100% on the user (my dumb ass) and not on the game. The more I played, the more I got into the rhythm of things. The biggest mistakes I made involved determining whether or not to send runners around the bases on hits in the outfield, and when to pull pitchers. I was kind of blindly fumbling around trying to figure out if Jake Westbrook’s 3 hits allowed in a row in the 6th meant he was tired even if he was working on a shutout and had only thrown 80 pitches. I had no clue.
Note: With Westbrook, the answer is almost always to get his ass out of there before he gets his nipples lit up like a Christmas tree.
If you’re curious about accuracy, they put it all on the line by allowing you to compare various rate stats to real life. That’s a great feature. So in my 2011 replay, there were 2.9% more Ks, 3.5% fewer triples, and runs were down 2.0%, just to name some examples. At one point, I thought “There seems to be a lot more Ks in this game than real life.” Sure enough, at that point in the replay, it was 5% more than what had happened.
One big edge it has over SOM is the small stuff. I found this out during a late April game against Houston when Jaime Garcia drilled Carlos Lee and caused a bench-clearing brawl. Both players were ejected. By then, I’d also witnessed a few rain delays, which wreaks havoc on your staff. SOM does not have this stuff. And when it happens in OOTP, it’s awesome with a capital A.
I knew I’d bought into Out of the Park Baseball completely when I found myself saying, “Bitch, I’ve got a 5-run lead on you and Chris Carpenter on the mound. This is over,” during a June game against the Royals. That’s right. I taunted an alternate universe version of the Kansas City Royals, which is like fantasizing about giving a wedgie to the fat, friendless kid in the back of the classroom.
There were three drawbacks to OOTP that I found. As much as I enjoyed (and endorse) OOTP, it’s only right to tell the truth. Unfortunately, I had to deal with a handful of crashes. It happened more than I expected. As for the historical replay angle, something happened somewhere along the line and I caught the game using the wrong lineups a few times, and I’m pretty sure my rotation was out of whack for a few months. In fairness, I was managing a Tony LaRussa club, which meant that OOTP had to deal with all sorts of crazy mad-capped lineup antics, such as pitchers hitting 8th and Corey Patterson being allowed to play baseball for an MLB team.
One of the bigger issues I had is that anyone who played for the team during the season was available at all times as long as the organization actually had them under contract. This means that even though Pete Kozma and Mark Hamilton were only on the roster for a month in 2011, I could’ve used either all year long. I would much rather the actual rosters be followed on each day. It sounds nitpicky, but frankly it’s something that SOM does and I appreciate it.
Now, about that replay. How did my season go?
First and foremost, it allowed me to re-live my intense dislike of Colby Rasmus all over again. Gump put up a .225/.305/.401 line for me, almost exclusively out of the #2 and #6 holes. He was a black hole in prime lineup real estate. And as if to purposely annoy me more, he went 7-for-12 with a double, triple, and homerun in the 3 games before he was traded. “Hey, I know you hate me, so I’ll go ahead and tease you with how good I COULD have been all this time right before you send me away to Toronto.” Thankfully, OOTP isn’t so realistic that I had to deal with his father.
It was uncanny how much my season followed the actual 2011 Cardinals. Once or twice a month during the replay, I’d pull up Baseball Reference to see what the Cardinals’ actual record was and it was almost always within a game or two of my replay record. Of course, this changed at the worst possible time. Which brings me to…
the excruciating way the replay season ended. In real life, the 2011 Cardinals erased a 10.5 game deficit in the Wild Card race from late-August until the end of the year. I had a much smaller deficit- only 5 games in late August, behind the Mets of all teams. And I got scalding hot in September… but not hot enough. I went 16-10 in September, and had won 6 of 7 going into the last game of the year. All I had to do was beat the Astros with Chris Carpenter on the mound, and I would have made the playoffs, defeating the Dodgers by a half game (they leapfrogged the Mets). And…
Yeah. Didn’t make it. Chris Carpenter pitched his worst game of the year and I found myself down 6-3 in the 7th. Like those real-life Cardinals, they battled back with two runs in the 8th to make it a 6-5 game. But Mitch Boggs and Mark Rczewhateverski, both who had been extremely reliable all year, pooped the bed and forked over three more runs to the Astros in the bottom of the 8th. Adding salt to the wound: Yadi Molina led off the 9th with a solo home run. It would’ve tied the game if only Boggs and Zep had done what they’d done all year long. Alas, it was not to be, and the replay 2011 St. Louis Cardinals finished 86-76, precisely two butt hairs out of the playoffs.
Trading Gump could not have turned out better, other than Zep turning into a pumpkin at the worst possible time. Edwin Jackson was a monster, going 8-2 with a 1.75 ERA. Octavio Dotel ran up a 1.64 ERA in 22 very valuable innings, while Zep gave me a 3.15 in 20 innings of his own (this despite his horrible final outing). Also, trading Rasmus freed the CF slot for Jon Jay, who had a 124 OPS+ and 34.3 VORP on the season. He was almost as productive as…
Albert Pujols. In AP’s final season in STL, he took a big hit in production (hey, I just compared him to Jon Jay). He went .292/.344/.505, and even that was bolstered by a red-hot September that saw him OPS 1.105. To his credit, he did win the equivalent of a Gold Glove.
The rest of the noteworthy stuff… Lance Berkman was my MVP and was a very viable candidate for NL MVP. Puma went .322/.430/.618 with 43 HR and 113 RBI. Chris Carpenter went 20-10 with a 2.66 ERA, and Jaime Garcia stepped up to provide a great #2 by going 17-8, 2.68. My tremendously deep lineup led the league in runs, average, OBP, and SLG… but the rotation finished 10th in the NL in ERA and 13th in bullpen ERA. That was my undoing right there. In real life, Fernando Salas did an admirable job holding down the closer’s role after Ryan Franklin faltered early, and then Jason Motte took over late in the season. Other than Franklin, the Cardinals had a reliable closer for 2/3 of the season. In the replay, Salas and Motte were the gas can brigade, blowing saves like they were going out of style (they combined to convert just 24 of 45 save opportunities). Motte was great… when he wasn’t closing. Salas was solid… when he wasn’t closing.
Now, to give OOTP a proper endorsement, I’m going to stop writing about the 2011 replay so I can go replay the 1985 season with the Runnin’ Redbirds.