It’s that time of year again, spring is in the air and it’s time to get ready for some baseball. The approaching new season also brings with it new versions of yearly titles. For some of us, our dreams of being in the major leagues as a player have long since vanished with time. But baseball is more than just its players, it’s also coaches and GMs all vying to bring home the title and direct those young stars to glory. Out of the Park Baseball 18 provides just that opportunity. Take the reigns as a coach, general manager or both, see if you have what it takes to win it all.
I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. Nearing 38, that memory is starting to get a bit fuzzier in places though. But that passion has never waned. Just to give you an idea, I probably watch a minimum of 200 games each year between TV and in person, Major Leagues and Minor Leagues. So, I’d like to think that I do have a pretty good grasp on the old ballgame. Along with that are the games. While I do remember some of the early baseball management sims of the mid to late ’90s, I will admit that’s one area I haven’t kept up on. This is my first go with the long running OOTP series.
My, oh my, are there a lot of options. Not only does the game include current year major and minor league rosters and teams, but all a bevy of international leagues as well. But, what if you are more into the historical aspect, the “what if” scenarios? Feel free to start a league with accurate rosters going all the way back to 1871! There are also options to play exhibition games pitting historical teams against each other as well. If the management sim is something you like, I’m honestly not sure what else one could ask for in terms of teams and players, including this year’s addition of the Negro Leagues as well.
I decided to get ready for the coming season by being the skipper of my favorite club, the Philadelphia Phillies. Look, I really hate to replace Pete Mackanin at the helm, I think he’s the right guy for the rebuilding job currently going on there. But for the sake of review, I installed myself as manager and began to work. Wow, is there a lot of work to do. To get ready for opening day, I checked the roster and adjusted my line-ups and depth charts for the coming season. I do get some control over the action on the field, but off the field, however, I was put at the mercy of the GM, Matt Klentak, and his personnel decisions.
Jeez, he’s younger than I am in real life. Will that inexperience matter? I’ll get to that shortly. I did my pre-season checks as manager then headed towards opening day. In the few days leading up, I was informed of some roster moves. This time it was just relief pitching; nothing of much consequence, but good to know things will be active in this regard. Here we go, time to play ball!
Opening day, the day where every team’s hopes are still high and anything is possible. Time to test my chops as a manager. It’s early in the season, and at this point pitchers tend to be a bit more ahead than batters, so I’m going to try and use that to my advantage. Being on the road in Cincy to open things up, we lead off. There are quite a few options available to instruct your batter, but when you’re leading off, it’s pretty simple: Either let the batter swing away, take a pitch or try and bunt for a hit. I felt pretty confident in my game plan, so I put it into action.
The Phillies’s all-star center fielder, Odubel Herrera, got things started. The plan is to take as many pitches as possible. After taking a few I let him swing away, and he smashed a single in the alley. Next batter, same result, taking a few pitches, then mashing another hit. One more time with the same attack plan, although this time no joy and a strike out. Noticing that the first pitch to the last 2 batters was a fast ball right down the middle, I let my clean up hitter swing away right from the start.
First pitch, boom, three-run home run for Tommy Joseph. Maybe I’m actually just good at this manager thing. Just to let the opposing pitcher know that we weren’t gonna let him throw a meatball down the middle of the plate first pitch and get away with it, I let my number 5 batters swing away from the start as well. Boom! Back to back jacks. We tacked on another before the inning was over, 2 more in the 2nd and another run in the 3rd. Up 8 runs we went on cruise control, no fancy defense here, just straight up, with the infield occasionally retreating to double play depth when the situation called for it. The first game wrapped up with an 8-1 victory, not a bad managerial debut, if I do say so myself.
Opinions on the in-game controls? I actually wish there was a bit more there, to be honest. Once you give the batter the go ahead to swing away, that’s it, no more managing in that at-bat. The problem with this is that it essentially gives the green light to swing away on a 3-0 pitch. If there is ever going to be a sign to the batter to take a pitch, that’s going to be where, but you can’t have them taking anything by command once you say it’s okay to swing. Same with pitching, there is pitch to batter, pitch around batter and pitch to contact. Okay, all very good options, but still sort of missing some key components to the strategy.
While there is basic info on the type of hitter the players are (spray, normal, pull), I can’t help but wish for a little more. Is the guy good at hitting inside pitches, outside pitches, etc? The ability to at least attempt to have the pitcher aim for those areas where he’s not as good at hitting or try and go right at them in their wheel house would have been welcomed. Instead of just pitching to contact, pitch to contact low in the zone to try and force a grounder, high for a pop up, etc. What’s there isn’t bad at all, but I wouldn’t mind some further definition in some of the options to really maximize the on the field strategy.
When I was preparing to play this year’s version of OOTP, I did a little research on past editions to see what kinds of issues folks had. The most common gripe I saw was some silly moves made by the AI GMs. It took all of one game to find myself at odds with our GM. Before the second game started, I received an in-game email informing me that Jorge Alfaro was being called up to AAA Lehigh Valley, and being sent down was…Cameron Rupp, my starting catcher. While there is no doubt that Alfaro should have been on the roster to start, sending down Rupp was the puzzler, and only 1 game in no less.
I tried to see if I could figure out what was going on. I mentioned earlier that my young GM was, of course, labeled as inexperienced. Could this be a factor in the soundness of his transactions? The only other thing that really stood out to me was the player ratings. Now, since I started there has already been an update to some of the player ratings, so that is good, but some just don’t seem right. I know that sometimes as fans we get attached to certain players and maybe hold them in a higher regard than the stats and actual performance might indicate. But for instance, the Phillies All-Star center fielder, Herrera, initially was rated at only 1 star. This was amended to either 1 1/2 or 2 stars, but still, that seems pretty light. Oh, and Rupp, the starting catcher who unseated longtime fan favorite Carlos Ruiz behind the plate? 1 star.. that just doesn’t seem right. In 105 games he batted .252 with 16 HR and 54 RBI. I understand those aren’t the most impressive numbers ever, but at least offensively for a catcher that’s nothing to sneeze at. Certainly nothing to me that would suggest a 1 star rating.
I can see it making sense to the AI; however, each player was rated with 1 star, and Alfaro is younger and cheaper. Why remove the starter though? That is the puzzling part, as the back-up catcher also had a 1 star rating and is 36 years old. This was before the most recent update, so had I started then, he would not even be on the roster as he was already released in real life, but in-game he stayed and was signed on a minor league deal. So, it wasn’t like he had a one way contract that kept him on the big league roster. The only real conclusion that I could come to is that the AI made a move that made some sense given the information it had; I guess the real disagreement is essentially over the ratings of the players. If the players’ ratings don’t match up closely enough to at least most people’s expectations, then there will always be moves that are going to puzzle players. A 1 star swap for a 1 star swap makes sense, unless, of course, you feel that at least one of those players is far better than just 1 star.
So, that was just a small part of the manager mode. Afterwards, I went and tried out the GM only mode. Now, I really don’t fancy being a baseball GM, but I gave it a go, just to see it all. To start out I was given a few tasks by the owner to prepare for the seasons. I quickly got to work. One such task was to sign Michael Saunders to an extension. Now, being a new player to the club, I didn’t think I’d be able to get the deal done until later in the season and the team was doing reasonably well or something to that effect. However, to my surprise he refused to sign an extension because…he didn’t like the manager’s style. Just for a little background, this is a player who just signed as a free agent in January, has never played a single game for the club yet, and the manager’s style he doesn’t like; well, I had the same manager when he signed 3 months ago as well. It’s not the fact he wouldn’t sign right away that was bothersome, I didn’t expect him to, but rather the reason, which given the situation of being totally new to the club and having joined by his own choice through free agency, made no sense.
Maybe those things sound a bit nitpicky, but they’re the kind of things that fans who follow any particular team closely would know. If I didn’t follow the Phillies and know that the player signed in free agency 3 months ago, I probably would have thought nothing of it. I know that no simulation game would be perfect in that regard. There are already so many different stats and factors in play. It’s just the kind of thing that some of the most fervent fans will notice.
Now, this being my first taste of OOTP, everything is new, but for returning players here is what has been added for this latest edition:
- 2017 Opening Day Rosters for MLB, MiLB, 8 International Leagues and several Indy Leagues.
- Tournaments and Fall Leagues
- Improved AI
- Redesigned injury system
- Ability to retain players’ salaries in trades
- New options for team promotions and relegations between leagues
- Many 2017 CBA rule changes are incorporated in modern MLB games
- Improved player morale / team chemistry system
- Improved player creation & development system
- Improved game recaps
- Enhanced play-by-play text and league news
- Beautiful new interface with three different skins
Overall, I was really impressed with the depth to this game’s features. Don’t let my minor gripes fool you, I did really enjoy playing and will be spending plenty more time with the game in the future. The rosters alone and options in terms of leagues and history are just outstanding. It will provide folks with near endless possibilities. The few things I wish were improved aren’t exactly required to have a great time with the game.
Developer: Out of the Park Developments
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: 24th March 2017