Major League Baseball’s opening day is today — yes, you read that correctly. It is the earliest the season has ever started, and only the sixth time in the past 100 years the season has opened on a Thursday. Twenty-eight of the 30 clubs are playing, also a record. (Cincinnati and Detroit would have made it a full 30, but, hey, weather happened.)
Out of the Park Baseball, the acclaimed management simulation for Linux, Mac and Windows PC, provided official predictions for MLB Network last night, supplementing about a dozen panelists (among them MLB The Show 18 announcers Matt Vasgersian and Dan Plesac). But where those panelists are giving a single gut call before the first of 162 games for each team are played, OOTP 19 maker Out of the Park Developments ran 1,000 season simulations in the game.
Based on the frequency of the outcomes, OOTP 19 predicts this for the 2018 MLB season, as related last night on MLB Network:
- The Cleveland Indians win the American League pennant, and the Los Angeles Dodgers the National. The Indians just barely edged out the New York Yankees in the simulation, winning the AL playoffs 29.1 percent of the time to the Bronx Bombers’ 29.0 percent.
- The Dodgers, however, are a strong call to win the World Series, doing so 27.5 percent of the time, the most of any club by a clear margin.
- The other playoff participants: the Chicago Cubs (losing in the National League Championship Series to the Dodgers); the Yankees (falling to the Indians); the Houston Astros (as winners of the AL West division); the Washington Nationals (out of the NL East); and the wild card entrants — the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in the AL, and the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL. Boston and Arizona will be the home teams for their play-in games, and will win them, says OOTP 19.
The game also predicts individual awards, which won’t be announced until November, but here goes: The Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto are their league MVPs, and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw are the Cy Young winners.
Should you trust Out of the Park Baseball? Well, last year, it correctly called the winner of the 2017 playoffs (Houston) before they began. OOTP 18 missed the Yankees beating Cleveland and the Dodgers beating Arizona and Chicago in the lower rounds, but still got the overall outcome right.
“Being featured on MLB Network is huge for us,” said Markus Heinsohn, the game’s creator, lead developer and chief executive of OOTP Developments. “Our long term goal is to have a similar recognition in North America as Sega’s Football Manager has in the U.K., where they sell hundreds of thousands of copies each year, and the game has a cult following.”
Out of the Park Baseball 19 launched on March 22, and SteamCharts shows it carrying a core of between 350 and 1,000 concurrent users since — though the game is available through other platforms as well. Though well-regarded, Out of the Park is often considered a boutique title for serious statistics aficionados, though that describes baseball fans in increasing numbers thanks to the spread of advanced analytical measurements and mainstream websites serving them up.
“A lot of potential customers are now more open-minded towards advanced metrics than five years ago,” Heinsohn said. “Stats like [Wins Above Replacement] or [Fielding Independent Pitching] get mentioned on popular baseball websites or during broadcasts frequently today. Hence the idea of playing a baseball strategy/simulation game is not as obscure anymore to some casual baseball fans.”
Out of the Park Baseball 19 is the fourth edition of the game to feature Major League Baseball licensing (and the third with a Major League Baseball Players Association license, entitling the game to the likenesses of all real-life players). While it gives the game real-world cachet, that does not come cheap. “It has helped with recognition,” Heinsohn said. “We now get taken more seriously, and we get opportunities like doing simulations for [ESPN’s] 538.com, or the MLB Network, which is great.”
In 2016, Out of the Park Baseball added thousands of minor league players from the preceding 100 years, which helped broaden the ways in which one can play it. The setup is relentlessly customizable and playable from any point in history, or sometimes users gather together specific, memorable teams (the 1922 St. Louis Browns and the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, for example) and face them off in a fantasy league. When they do, Out of the Park Baseball’s logic is the same for their encounters as it is in predicting present day, real-life seasons.
“One way I really enjoy playing is creating a fictional league in 1977 (my birth year), then simulate 40-plus years to build some league history, and take over a bad team and try to turn it into a winner,” Heinsohn said with a laugh. “That’s usually pretty tough, and more often than not I fail. I’m actually pretty bad at playing my own game, believe it or not.
Still, “It’s a ton of data and complicated algorithms, but the most important ingredient is our experience,” Heinsohn said. OOTP began in 1997. Though it is the smallest and most recent video game to carry league licensing, it’s older than the MLB The Show or the reconstituted R.B.I. Baseball, both available only on consoles. “We have learned many lessons through the years and tweaked the simulation engine to a degree that, nowadays, there is nothing out there that comes even remotely close to the level of realism and customization OOTP provides,” Heinsohn said.
The Major League Baseball season begins at 12:40 p.m. ET with the Chicago Cubs at the Miami Marlins, the first of three games on ESPN today. The others are Houston at Texas at 3:30 p.m. and then San Francisco at the Dodgers at 7 p.m.