OOTP 18: Another great year for the baseball video game franchise

Year after year, Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) is the top simulation baseball game available. OOTP 18 is no different. The amount of depth is incredible; from being able to play historical seasons, manage every detail of one’s controlled organization, and having complete power over customization, there isn’t much one can’t do in this game.

On a yearly basis, OOTP is a reliably entertaining and immersive game that always feels like there’s nothing else necessary to add. Sure, some minor tweaks to AI always help improve the experience, but it’s almost impossible to come up with something that this game doesn’t have. That being said, the makers behind OOTP come up with new (and great) features anyway, and this year is no different. Allow me to walk you through some of the new key additions this year, my overall thoughts on the game, and a glimpse into the first month of the Yankees’ 2017 season that I’ve played and simulated.

The biggest new features include an improved 3D mode (for those who like to manage and simulate pitch-by-pitch), a challenge mode that allows human players to compete with each other for various accolades, and the addition of the Negro Leagues in historical seasons. Admittedly, I’m probably not going to use any of these features as I prefer to take control of one team and act as the GM without the minute game-by-game details. However, I can absolutely see the appeal of those features. Here’s why:

The 3D mode adds a level of depth to the individual game simulation. It’s not going to wow you if you’re used to console baseball video games, but it certainly improves the usual text-based simulations that many are used to on a single game basis. There’s something about seeing a play unfold, even if somewhat basic graphically, that adds more than reading “Dustin Pedroia grounded out to shortstop Didi Gregorius”.

Challenge mode is a standardized goal-oriented mode that allows you to set up a classic OOTP game set up on a level playing field with other players. You won’t be competing with them head-to-head in the league set up, but rather, you can compare various accomplishments achieved in your career that are tracked on your online profile.

The addition of the Negro Leagues in historical seasons is fantastic, too. As you may already be aware, OOTP allows players to start a game back in time. So, if you start a game at some point earlier in the 20th century, the Negro Leagues can be a part of your game’s universe. Ever thought about how Josh Gibson would fare in the Major Leagues? Fire up an OOTP game, acquire him, and let the years play out. Though I prefer to play in the current year in OOTP, I have to imagine that this is a pretty neat feature for historical players.

Other more additions include updated rosters (as expected), international tournaments and fall leagues, improved AI, ability to eat salaries in trades, and more. All of those are welcomed additions, of course. An entire list of new features can be found here.

My thoughts:

For what I play OOTP for, the game isn’t overwhelmingly different from years past, but I’m not really seeking an overhaul. For me, the game is excellent as is. Yet, there are a few things that I want to point out that either (a) really draw me to this game or (b) are tweaks to this year’s version that I’m a huge fan of.

  • Retaining player salaries in trades: This a a really nice feature on the propose trade screen. In prior versions, cash could always be included in a deal (this is still available), but now the amount of a to be traded or acquired contract can be specified. This is really useful because it essentially allows money moved in a trade to be spread out over time, rather than all of the cash being included up front. It’s a small addition, and I don’t think I ever realized that it’s something I would have wanted in the past, but I’m pleased to have it now. It just adds another small piece of realism.
  • ZiPS Projection System: Perhaps this was around in the past, but I wasn’t aware that the player ratings were generated based on ZiPS, Dan Szymborski’s forecasting model. In recent years, ZiPS has fared very well (if not the best) compared to other systems in terms of accuracy.
  • Customization: There is so much that can be customized to one’s own liking in this game. For me, the first thing I always do is change the player rating system to be on the 20-80 scouting scale. That’s just one example of what can be changed in the game, as there are countless other things that can be crafted to your own liking. Seriously, name what you want to be able to amend, and you probably can. Want to change the name of your team? Go right ahead. Want the DH in the NL? Unilaterally lay the hammer down.
  • Depth of rosters: There isn’t a minor league level or prospect that has been ignored. As the GM of the team you control, you have a say in what goes on from the Major League level all the way down to the Dominican Summer League. It actually can be kind of daunting to have to evaluate and manage so many prospects within a system, but it’s a phenomenal aspect of the game that exemplifies how the creators leave no stone unturned.

Ultimately, I don’t have some sort of formal rating methodology to evaluate this game as video game reviews aren’t my trade. But if I was forced to, I’d have to give it an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. For some, I can see how this game might be daunting to undertake given how deep and immersive it is, but keep in mind that there are so many settings that allow for one to control as much or as little as one wants. On the precipice, it seems like a game for the hardcore baseball fan like me, but given the customization options, it really can be for anyone who enjoys a simulation based game.

Where to buy?

Out of the Park Baseball 18 sells for $39.99 and is available on Steam and through the company’s website at these links:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/465650/

http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/

My OOTP Game (so far):

Now, on to the 2017 simulation that I’ve begun. The second I started my game, Hal Steinbrenner laid out a few demands: achieve a winning season (possible!), make the playoffs in the next four seasons (gee, I hope so), acquire a former MVP (whoa!), and sign Michael Pineda to an extension. Signing Pineda to an extension is a bit odd, but whatever. The acquire a former MVP award winner was surprising though! That’s a pretty big ask. Fortunately, the Yankees’ lush farm system might allow me to do that. These goals are an important facet of the game, as a player can get fired as General Manager for failing to meet some or all goals. It’s not a requirement to reach all of them, but there better be some effort in doing so. There’s also an setting to disallow the owner to fire you, if you so choose (like I said, customization is a huge plus in this game).

To this point, I’ve simulated one month into the year. That took me a few hours, as I like to take total control of the entire system, depth charts, and lineups. I plan to provide updates as the year goes along, but I wanted to give a brief review of what I’ve seen thus far. It wouldn’t make sense to write a game review later this year when I finally finish a full season.

At the end of April, the Yankees stand at .500, going 12-12 (there was one rainout if you’re wondering why I hadn’t played the 23 games the real Yankees played), 3.5 games behind first place Boston. It’s certainly not the pace of the real life 15-8 Yankees, but it’s not a start that’s put the team in a bind.

There are a handful of big news items in the first month of play, but perhaps the biggest for my Yankees team is that I decided to demote Aaron Judge to Triple-A on April 29. Gasp! In my game, he’s performed nothing like the Judge we’ve been watching in reality. In 87 plate appearances, Judge was hitting .167/.240/.308 with 3 home runs and 35 strikeouts (44 OPS+). Yuck. Aaron Hicks, meanwhile, posted a 121 OPS+ (mostly against lefties), so I decided it was time to make a change.

Judge wasn’t the only disappointment, though. For pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka had a rough April. His ERA stands at 5.51 through six starts. CC Sabathia fared poorly too, with an ERA just below the ace of the staff, 5.46. Adam Warren has had a rough go of it as well, with a sky high 7.53 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched. As for position players, Chase Headley is off to another rough start, with a 57 OPS+ (.205/.272/.325). Starlin Castro has been just as bad (58 OPS+).

On the other hand, there have been a few pleasant surprises. I mentioned Hicks before, but Jacoby Ellsbury is performing well, hitting .319/.397/.464 (127 wRC+).

How’s the back of the rotation doing? Not bad. Luis Severino was my fourth starter, and has thrown 30 innings of 3.90 ERA ball. I tabbed Luis Cessa as the fifth starter after a couple of strong starts in Scranton, and he was acceptable in three starts with the Yankees, posting a 4.42 ERA.

Gary Sanchez’ torrid 2016 carried over to 2017. He posted a 159 OPS+ in April, batting .345/.396/.607 with 5 home runs. Michael Pineda was the best pitcher, with a 3.38 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 32 innings.

More to come as I continue the simulation.

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Make Gary Sanchez part of OOTP 18’s Perfect Team Digital Cover

Anyone who has played video games in the past knows that cover art is commonplace. For sports games, there’s usually one, maybe two, star players featured on a game’s case. Out of the Park Baseball, a digital only PC/Max/Linux game, has never featured a player on the cover before (it’s digital only, duh).

Things are changing this year. Eleven (!) players will be on a “digital cover” as voted on by the OOTP community. One Yankee, Gary Sanchez, is eligible to be voted on to the team. You can vote here.

For those unfamiliar, OOTP is an incredibly immersive baseball simulation game. Essentially, it gives you the ability to run a franchise starting from today and control all facets of the organization. You can also go back in time and try to rewrite history. When the game is released on March 24, I’ll offer up some sort of commentary or review on this year’s version.

Voting results will be announced on a live stream on March 15th. For further details, see the official press release after the jump…

Continue reading

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Chris Carter’s effect on Greg Bird, Tyler Austin, and Rob Refsnyder

It’s a good thing that Brian Cashman left a one percent chance of the Yankees making another move this offseason just a few weeks ago, otherwise we could now call him a liar. Not that Cashman cares. It’s not yet official, but the Yankees reportedly signed Chris Carter to a one-year contract yesterday.

For a measly $3.5M, Carter adds depth to an already crowded first base and designated hitter situation. The right-handed slugger joins Greg Bird, Matt Holliday, Tyler Austin, and Rob Refsnyder as options for Joe Girardi to evaluate before Opening Day. Of course, with a Major League contract, Carter is all but assured a spot on the 25-man roster come April. Really, this signing affects one of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder, as it previously was likely that two of the three would head north after spring training. Now, only one will likely accompany the veterans Carter and Holliday to the Bronx.

Going strictly by ability, Bird should be the one joining Carter and Holliday in New York. Compared to Austin and Refsnyder, Bird has a better projection for 2017 and higher long-term upside. It also helps that he offers left-handed lineup balance, something the Yankees are lacking. That being said, Bird does need to prove that his shoulder is ready to handle a big league role out of the gate, which isn’t a certainty. There’s also the potential manipulation of service time to gain an extra season of control.

Assuming we get the combination of Bird, Carter, and Holliday, we should expect Austin and Refsnyder to lose something in the neighborhood of 400 big league plate appearances combined. For a team that’s building for the future, taking away opportunities from young players, even if not expected to be integral building blocks, doesn’t seem wise. At first glance, this makes the Carter signing peculiar. But maybe we shouldn’t be up in arms about it, at least not yet. Before we get concerned about Carter taking away at-bats from the kids, there are a few things to consider.

One, injuries happen. Bird and Holliday are the best bets to come up with some sort of maladies during the season, whether it’s Bird needing more time to get comfortable with his healed shoulder in Triple-A to start the season or father time catching up to Holliday.

Two, Carter is unquestionably a better right-handed option when compared to the inexperienced Austin and Refsnyder. Neither of the latter two are expected to be big contributors in 2017, and neither of them are cornerstone pieces of the franchise. So if the Yankees are trying to compete this season, why not seek out an upgrade? ZiPS and Steamer are both fans of Carter’s bat, especially when viewed against the projected offensive output from Austin and Refsnyder.  In truth, Austin and Refsnyder are fringy. Again, if the Yankees are trying to contend this season while not sacrificing the future, it’s not the end of the world to take away at bats from those two.

ZiPS 2017 ProjectionPAOPS+WAR
Chris Carter5471151.2
Matt Holliday3291090.9
Greg Bird3971080.8
Tyler Austin459980.3
Rob Refsnyder507941.4

Steamer 2017 ProjectionPAwRC+WAR
Chris Carter2331060.3
Matt Holliday5131231.6
Greg Bird4591231.9
Tyler Austin180930.2
Rob Refsnyder132990.3

Three, the Yankees won’t be stuck with Carter if he’s awful. At only $3.5M guaranteed, he could be cut after a bad month or two early on. For a guy who strikes out as much as he does while offering negative defensive value, he’s going to have to hit lots of home runs right away. If not, the Yankees will be able to move on and utilize Austin and Refsnyder in the platoon/bench role.

Four, Carter could go absolutely nuts with the bat. He hit 41 home runs last year over a full season’s worth of plate appearances, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he swatted dingers at a similar rate in 2017. No, he won’t be getting nearly the 644 plate appearances that he received in Milwaukee last season, but if he gets the majority of his time against southpaws this season, he could be lethal.

The Carter signing is fine. It’s not going to be a significant difference maker, but it does appear to be a slight upgrade over what the Yankees had planned to roll out there in 2017. It’s not going to prevent anyone deserving from losing opportunities they deserve, which I think is the most important aspect of this move.

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Our FANS projections for the 2017 40-Man Roster

If you’re not familiar with the FANS projections over at Fangraphs, we’d suggest you get to it. It’s a fun time-killer and spits out a interesting product on the site. After any given player receives five projections, it shows on the player’s Fangraphs page. This provides a general idea of what the average fan (err…Fangraphs user) thinks Player X will do in the upcoming season. I (Derek here) always find it interesting to see how the FANS projections stack up against popular systems like ZiPS and Steamer.

For this post’s purpose and our own amusement, we’ve projected each player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster and have shared those projections below. There are two summary tabs, one for pitchers and one for hitters, and two detailed tabs which illustrate the entirety of our projections. Any thoughts, agreements, or disagreements?

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A brief update…

I’ve begun contributing to another Yankees blog, It’s About the Money, over the past the past few weeks. It’s a great blog that is a part of the ESPN SweetSpot network of blogs, and I’m happy to be aboard.

Although Chris is now at Fangraphs and I’m taking on a new opportunity, Pinstripe Pundits isn’t going anywhere. There are still things that I’d like to maintain on this site that I think reflects my voice and this blog’s voice, so I’ll be chiming in from time to time. Chris knows that he’s always welcome to pop in when he likes, too. Obviously, we have gone through peaks and valleys with post frequency, and right now is a lull in the offseason, so I wouldn’t count on too much here until Spring Training rolls around.

If you’re interested in what I’ve written for It’s About the Money, here’s my archive.

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With final luxury tax figures reported, a brief comparison to our estimate

At the completion of this season, I published a final estimate of the Yankees’ 2016 Competitive Balance Tax liability for no discernible benefit. Last week, the final tax payments were reported (bold emphasis is mine):

A record six teams are paying baseball’s luxury tax this season, led by the Los Angeles Dodgers at $31.8 million and the New York Yankees at $27.4 million.

The Yankees are paying for the 14th straight year since the tax began, raising their total to $325 million. New York has said it hopes to get below the threshold by 2018.

There you have it. With $27.4M due to the league office, I underestimated what the Yankees owed. My forecast was for a $26.4M levy. That’s not too far off, especially after considering my disclosures regarding where my calculation could have gone wrong.

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Bringing Chapman to the Bronx is a mistake

It was no secret that the Yankees wanted to acquire a closer this offseason. Though Dellin Betances would have been perfectly suitable for the role, the organization clearly prioritized building a super bullpen. It was so important that everything else was put on hold. The team got what it wanted when news broke that Aroldis Chapman agreed to a five-year, $86M contract to return to the Bronx.

Chapman’s blazing fastball and personal baggage return to the Bronx after a few months with the World Champion Chicago Cubs, who acquired him from the Yankees before the July 31 trade deadline. The Cuban southpaw is one of the best relievers in baseball and would make any team’s bullpen better, however, there’s plenty of reason to grumble about Chapman rejoining the Yankees.

First, let’s talk about Chapman the person. I can’t tell you what to think or how to root, but the domestic abuse allegations make it very difficult for many, including me, to root for Chapman. Even if you believe Chapman, who says he didn’t lay a hand on girlfriend, you still have to reconcile that he recklessly fired his gun eight times inside his garage. Who does that? How sure are the Yankees that it’ll never happen again? I guess the Yankees believe they could void the remainder of his deal should any future incident pop up, which feels dirty on its own.

Some, clearly including the Yankees (cough Hal), have no problem overlooking Chapman’s prior behavior. I suppose it’s one’s prerogative to gloss over the situation, but even for those who are willing to, there are baseball reasons to not like this deal.

First and foremost, I can admit that Chapman is absolutely an upgrade to the bullpen for 2017. After Betances and Tyler Clippard, the rest of the relief picture is murky. With Chapman in tow, Betances and Clippard will work in the seventh and eighth innings, leaving fewer high leverage innings for inferior relievers to have opportunities in. Ultimately, Steamer’s +2.5 fWAR projection for Chapman should be a full two-to-three win upgrade over the replacement level relievers (i.e. Nick Goody, Chasen Shreve) that will have a reduced workload. That all sounds great, right? Not so fast.

In a vacuum, adding two or three wins is a pretty good deal at a $17.2M salary next year. However, the needle still hasn’t moved significantly for the Yankees, who are still looking at something like 83 wins next year. The team has been between 84 and 87 wins over the last four years, and this team not only projects to be in line with that, but doesn’t feel any better than those recent squads. It’s possible that the Yankees sneak into a Wild Card spot in 2017, but that’s no certainty. And yes, we’ve seen the advantage of a deep bullpen in the postseason in recent years. But without other upgrades, it’s not easy to picture the Yankees reaching October in the first year or Chapman’s deal. And based on Cashman’s comments, there aren’t any other significant changes coming. Continue reading

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Holliday is a smart signing for the Yankees

The Yankees’ offseason to-do list is now one task shorter after the team reportedly signed Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13M deal yesterday. The longtime left fielder for the Rockies, Athletics (not so long), and Cardinals will join the Yankees to become the club’s primary designated hitter. He could see time in the field at first base and the outfield, but the rigors of everyday play in the field for the soon-to-be 37 year-old should be no more. Defense isn’t what the Yankees need from him, anyway. The team needs him to hit the snot out of the ball in 2017, and given his track record and outlook, he is more than capable of doing so.

Holliday is a shrewd addition in a free agent class chock-full of players of his ilk. He was’t the most obvious candidate for the Yankees, with a Carlos Beltran reunion seeming inevitable and the rumors regarding Edwin Encarnacion. Yet, Holliday makes the most sense compared to not only Beltran and Encarnacion, but the remaining available hitters of that mold.

PlayerAgePlate AppearanceswRC+WAR
Matt Holliday375281211.8
Carlos Beltran405981070.7
Edwin Encarnacion346401252.3
Mark Trumbo315871091.1
Jose Bautista366181282.9
Mike Napoli355561030.9
Brandon Moss334421020.4
Steve Pearce344141121.4
Steamer 2017 Projections via Fangraphs. Player age is his end of 2017 season age.

Steamer, available on Fangraphs, projects Holliday to have the third-best wRC+ of free agents that, entering the offseason, were best fit for the Yankees’ void at DH. Only Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have better outlooks, but neither of those players could be had on a one-year deal. As mentioned, the Yankees were linked to the former, but there wasn’t much indication of any interest in Joey Bats. That makes sense. Though Bautista would have been a fine DH, he doesn’t offer experience at first base like the rest of the group. Again, though, Bautista is going to command a multi-year deal, which the Yankees would have presumedly passed on. Continue reading

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Rule 5 Options for the Yankees

The Yankees added a slew of prospects to their 40-man roster this winter in anticipation of this year’s Rule 5 draft. As a result, the Yankees’ 40-man is currently maxed out, which doesn’t bode well for the Bombers participating in this year’s Rule 5. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult for them to make room, as there’s still plenty of DFA-worthy riffraff on the roster. But there isn’t nearly as much riffraff as there was a week ago, and the Yankees will need some of those spots if they intend to sign any free agents. If I had to guess, the Yankees will probably sit this one out, just as they have every year since 2011. But if the Yankees do decide to make a pick, there are plenty of interesting guys available according to my KATOH projections.

Pitching Help

The Yankees’ 40-man roster is crowded with pitchers, but their cohort of lefty relievers is rather weak. None of Chasen Shreve, Tommy Layne, Richard Bleier, Jacob Lindgren or Dietrich Enns qualify as established big leaguers. And frankly, if any one of those guys were DFA’d this winter, I would hardly bat an eye. There are some promising righties available — Mike Hauschild, Nabil Crismatt and Armando Rivero, to name a few — but if the Yankees take a pitcher, it will most likely be a lefty. Here are a few available lefties who are probably better than Tommy Layne, and might be worthy of a roster spot. Continue reading

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2016 In Review: Chase Headley

Preseason Expectations

After a mediocre 2015, any hope for Chase Headley to rediscover his incredible 2012 form was quashed. That 31 homer, 145 wRC+, and +7.5 fWAR season in San Diego simply was an unattainable aspiration for the third baseman in the Bronx, who truly is much closer to league average than stardom. Being average isn’t bad! That’s essentially what any rational person anticipated from Headley in 2016.

Expecting Headley to be an average player meant a decent but unspectacular offensive output buoyed by plus defense. The former was plausible, while the latter became somewhat concerning after a career high 23 errors in 2015. His fielding woes were perplexing, particularly because of his reputation as a defensive wizard at the hot corner. Nonetheless, there was a good amount of work put into restoring his defensive strength in preparation for 2016, leaving room for optimism on that side of the field.

ZiPS had no qualms about Headley entering the season, and projected an above average all-around performance. Plus defense and a 102 OPS+ in 141 games meant a +2.7 win projection per Dan Szymborski’s system, a forecast the Yankees certainly would have signed up for back in March.

What happened

Nobody could have surmised a worse start to a season than the one Headley had. He hit so poorly that it was as if the Yankees were purposely including a pitcher in the lineup. If someone other than Ronald Torreyes was the next best option at the hot corner, he might not have had as long of a leash as Joe Girardi offered. Continue reading

Posted in 2016 In Review | Tagged | 1 Comment