The annual rite of Spring is upon us–the release of the 17th iteration of the Out of the Park Baseball sim, out for the general public Tuesday.  Much like the other nine versions of the game I’ve played (I started with OOTP 8), OOTP 17 has already caused several unusually late bedtimes after I took the helm of the Detroit Tigers and try to get them back to the World Series.

OOTP 17 Main Screen

OOTP 17 lets you take control of your favorite Major League team. Or, you can start your career managing at any level of the minor leagues; start overseas in leagues like the NPB and KBO; or even try to beat the odds by starting off in Independent League Baseball (alas, there is no Pacific Association!). Last year, OOTP 16 was licensed by Major League Baseball for the first time in the sim’s history. This year, OOTP 17 added an official license from the MLB Players’ Association and according to the game notes, the FaceGen for existing players should be more realistic. So your snozzberries taste like snozzberries and your Cabrera will look like Cabrera (not just some random dude with his same weight, age, ethnicity, etc). So, you are just a few sleepless nights away from finding out what Mike Trout will look like in his 2032 season! The other major cosmetic change was to the main user interface, which is much cleaner and easier on the eyes than last year’s version (which you can see here in Nick Strangis’s excellent 1985 vs 2015 series). I particularly like how the upcoming schedule is laid out in this version–the schedule is prominently placed in the top right corner making it much easier to see who your team will be playing in the next six days.

 

Cubs Team Page

So aesthetically, the game is already an improvement over prior versions. OOTP 17 also has several new features that improve a General Manager’s control over his or her team. First, in this version you can set not only your team development budget, but also for the first time your draft budgets and international amateur free agent budget. So an aspiring Jeff Luhnow can tear down his MLB roster to a bare minimum, put all that money into player development, draft signings, and international free agents, and profit four years later (unless you forget to turn on the “Can’t be fired” feature and your owner has enough). Second, in your team pitcher screen you can dictate what relievers should be used in high leverage situations, and which pitchers should be avoided in high leverage. So your risk of having to put up with a cyber-Brad Ausmus are somewhat limited.

Relievers

More significantly, the developers have improved the player trade feature. In past versions, most of the offers I would get from the A.I. would be “are you interested in this crappy, 1-star middle reliever for your top prospect?” Why no, Mr. Dombrowski, I am not. Just like I wasn’t the other six times you sent that same offer. But now, you can fill out a “team needs” form, which the A.I. will use in evaluating what offers to send you. For instance, going into the 2016 season, I put out a team need for the Tigers for a average quality, left handed, MLB starter.  Miami’s GM comes back with this:

Marlins Offer

But Hill wants Beau Burrows and Derek Hill for Chen, so I guess I’ll pass.

Another big improvement is the 3D Graphics during in-game management. First introduced in OOTP 15, this feature really comes alive in the newest version. Of particular interest to BttP readers, the game gives you a variety of shifting options–a “weak” shift, regular shift, and “hard” shift. There is also an option to shift even with the infield in and the game features several other defensive options such as playing a deep infield or setting your middle infielders to double-play depth.

Hard Shift Right

Unlike the other versions, you can actually see where your defenders are positioned in the new version. This is a “hard shift right” against Elvis Andrus. The only “con” to 3D mode is that, so far, the play-by-play text is rather significantly behind the live action. The stadiums look pretty good in 3D graphic view too. The game has also added a feature to the boxscore of each game, which now gives a brief description of the game and a Win Probability chart.

Game Chart

But the best new feature of OOTP 17 is the historical exhibition series; which allows you to simulate a game or series against any two teams from 1901 to today. I’ve spent most of my time playing for and against the 1927 Yankees (I got the 1984 Tigers to take them to nine games, before Babe Ruth went on a three-homer tear to blow us out in Game 9).  Playing superseries featuring some of the best teams of all time has easily been my favorite part of reviewing OOTP 17. For purposes of this review, we’re going to have a series featuring two of the worst teams of the last 116 years–the 1962 New York Mets versus the 2003 Detroit Tigers. After selecting “Historical Exhibition” from the main screen, you enter the set-up screen:

Exhibition Setup

Once you select your titans of terribleness, you can set the series length and mode; what era and strategy will be used for the series; roster limits; and whether to turn injuries on. Then you “Create Exhibition;” set your rosters; and it’s time to Play Ball.

As you would expect from two such, um, evenly matched teams the series went the distance. The 1962 Mets were led by Al Jackson, who had 3 WAR as a rookie in 1962, but lost 20 games for the woeful Mets. In the series, Jackson went 2-1 with 22 Ks in 24 1/3 IP, a 0.64 WHIP, and a 1.85 ERA. Marvelous Marv Throneberry hit a grand slam in his first at bat; but much like his awesome nickname didn’t live up to that first AB. The 2003 Tigers had the two best hitters in the series. Eric Munson was one of many of the failed top draft picks that made the 90s and early 2000s so miserable for Tigers fans, but in this series he hit a robust .533/.563/.800 with 1 HR (in 15 AB) and was the series MVP. The Tigers “star” of that era, Bobby Higginson, was the best player of the series, hitting .304/.385/.478 with 1 HR. And just like real life, Craig Monroe hit 2 HR in the series and didn’t do anything else. In this struggle of futility, the 2003 Tigers managed to come back from down 2-3 to win the series in 7 games.

Futile Series

Conclusion

OOTP 17 is, in my view, a significant upgrade on last year’s version (which in itself was significantly better than its predecessors). Visually, the user interface is cleaner; the 3D gameplay system is impressive; and the inclusion of actual players’ faces in the FaceGen system is a fun touch. The A.I. GMs seem to be improved over 16; particularly thanks to the “team needs” form which lets the A.I. give you targeted trade offers (even if they want two of your best prospects for a middling starter); and the greater control over which relievers are used in high and low leverage. The piece de resistance of OOTP 17 has to be the historical exhibition feature, which allows you to play any two teams from any season beginning in 1901; using either modern era strategies or those from either of the historical teams. While the OOTP learning curve is steep, this is a must buy for the analytic-minded fan. OOTP 17 completely immerses you in the minutia of running a MLB team, including finances, player development, and even the day-to-day operation of minor league clubs. I give this game 10/10.

 

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