Baseball simulations are sometimes difficult to review. They all try to make you feel like you’re managing a baseball team, which makes them fairly similar to start with, and then they also release a new version each year (or every couple of years), and these versions are also nearly identical, with usually the biggest change being the inclusion of the latest stats for the players. And so it’s difficult to find new and interesting things to say about them.
The last time I reviewed a baseball simulation was Baseball Mogul in 2003. Clearly some time has passed since then because one of the new features in Out of the Park Baseball 9 (OTPB9) is the addition of drug suspensions. Baseball was only just starting to get a whiff of that in 2003, most notably with Mark McGwire and andro, but then Congress held some steroid hearings in 2005 and drug use became front page news.
Anyway, OTPB9 is a fairly standard baseball simulation; it’s just more versatile than you might expect. It is set up with the current stats and league set-ups for Major League Baseball, so you can just jump right in and start controlling your favorite team if you want, but it also has options so you can convert the simulation to just about any other baseball league ever, probably including your local beer league if you have the stats for it.
Just to give you a taste for what the game can do, here are some of the things you can adjust: the number of teams, divisions, and sub-leagues, and the names and locations (including countries) of those teams; whether minor league teams are included or not; whether you’re the GM of the team or the manager or both, or whether you start out unemployed and have to work your way up; whether players and fans are rated for personality and morale; how often players get injured or suspended or traded; how often players bunt or hit-and-run or steal, not just overall but for particular innings and scores; and more.
The problem with so much variety is that it’s a double-edged sword. The game lets you do whatever you want, which is good, but there’s also just so much stuff available that some of it is bound to do nothing more than get in your way. For example, I just want to play as the GM of a current team in Major League Baseball, and so I like how the game actually includes a 40-man roster and player options and trade deadlines, and how it models every single day of the year, so during the off-season you actually get to negotiate with free agents and attend the winter meetings. But on the downside, I don’t really care about having all 17 minor league systems (and their associated players, games, coaches, and news items), it gets a little tedious setting up four different line-ups every time I make a roster move, and there are just a lot of pages to click through to get anything done. For example, when a player comes off the DL, you have to go to your team page, then go to your roster page, then remove a player from your roster, then go to the transaction page, then go to the DL page, then activate the player, then go to your lineups or pitching page, and then finally re-define the role of the player (which by itself might require lots of clicking and dragging). That’s a lot of work for something that shouldn’t be so complicated.
OTPB9 is played using its own browser. This is generally effective, since anybody who uses a web browser will be right at home with it, and since the game includes mostly text instead of graphics, and browsers give nice ways of handling and formatting text (such as including hyperlinks and allowing you change the size of the window). However, browser games create a problem for me, since my default rating system includes graphics and sound, and OTPB9 contains neither to any appreciable degree. So instead of those categories, I’m going to add a “verisimilitude” rating, which is basically how much the game made me feel like I was experiencing the real thing.
I rated verisimilitude in two ways. The first way was simply to take control of the Dodgers and see if managing them felt realistic. This was sort of a mixed bag because it turns out the game has lots of quirks. For example, player contracts are all but random. Consider Andruw Jones. He’s supposed to have a two-year $36 million contract with the Dodgers but for some reason only has a one-year $2.5 million contract (the Dodgers should be so lucky). I guess the developers needed to “even out” the payrolls to put teams on an even footing, but that sort of change just kills the realism. I also noticed that there are way too many season- and career-ending injuries, especially for everyday players, and that teams trade players and make roster moves at the drop of a hat. Finally, I found that the computer GMs aren’t very smart. It’s really easy to give them lots of junk in return for good players. I ended up trading for Brandon Webb, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, and I took the Dodgers to the World Series twice in five years. I wish that was realistic, but it’s not.
The other way I rated verisimilitude was to run the 2008 season ten times without any interference from me. Each run only took 10-15 minutes, which is impressive since this includes over 10,000 games between the majors and the minors, but once again I got mixed results. 24 of the 30 Major League teams managed to make the playoffs (including such powerhouses as the Orioles, Royals, and Pirates), and eight different teams won the World Series. That is, the results were a lot more random than they should have been, and they were tough to believe in. But if you’re a fan from Philadelphia, take heart. The Phillies made the playoffs nine times out of the ten years, which was better than any other team.
Reading over my review, I’m probably making OTBP9 sound worse than it is. I always want my baseball simulations to be perfectly realistic, but of course they never are, and OTPB9 seems to be about as good as any of them. I think if you really took the time to delve into and test out the game’s options, then you could make it effective at simulating a modern Major League season, and if you’re interested in other leagues (like the Japanese or Mexican leagues) or in historical leagues, then OTPB9 is just about the only option out there. So OTPB9 is a game that might be worthwhile to check out, depending on your circumstances.