Thursday, April 24, 2014

Out of the Park Baseball 15 and the Orioles' New Big Three

As long-time readers may remember, last year, I got a chance to review Out of the Park Baseball 14. And once again, for Out of the Park 15, the company once again reached out to the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to test the game. OotP has long been my favorite simulator, not only for upcoming seasons, but also for simulating past hypotheticals. And as it just so happened, I had the perfect situation to test out.

Back during Hall of Fame season, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine being up for election at the same time got me thinking about the Braves’ Big Three. And somehow, I got to wondering: could another team have won more (games or World Series) with a similar Big Three in their rotation?

And it wasn’t difficult to pick a team to test this out with. I already had a Big Three in mind: I wanted Hall-level pitchers from the 1990s to run concurrent with the Braves. Specifically, I wanted Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Kevin Brown. All three have been overlooked for Cooperstown, and yet, cumulatively, they are only 13.4 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference) behind the Braves’ trio. That comes out to a difference of 4.5 WAR per player per career, all of which were close to 20 seasons. That’s not a big difference at all.

As for what team to use, I picked the one franchise that all three played on: the Orioles. I started in 1991, the year Mussina was called up and the first season following the trade that sent Schilling (still a young reliever just getting started) to Houston. Kevin Brown is the only one with experience from this batch so far, and he’s not scheduled to come to Baltimore for a few more seasons.

Technically, I should still have Curt Schilling, since the games technically starts 10 days before the trade. Either way, my first deal is to undo it. I send Glenn Davis back to Houston for Schilling and Finley (I need to include Leo Gomez on top of it, but that seemed like a necessary thing).

I try to acquire Kevin Brown four seasons early. The Rangers are pretty hesitant to the idea. I send the now-redundant Joe Orsulak, but they want more. In the end, I have to include Ben McDonald. I was kind of hoping to keep him to see if he wound up living up to his #2 prospect potential in this universe, but it was either that or a package of Jose Mesa and Arthur Rhodes in his place. Rhodes was similarly ranked (peaking at #5), so I decide that’s worth hanging on to. Besides, this keeps some of my pitching depth. This also frees up some budget room for me.

At this point, I notice I have a lot of corner players, between Sam Horn and Randy Milligan at first and dh, plus outfielders Brady Anderson, Steve Finley, Mike Devereaux, Dwight Evans, and Chito Martinez. Meanwhile, my infield is looking shallow, as Cal Ripken will be flanked by some combination of Tim Hulett, Billy Ripken, and Craig Worthington. I shop Martinez and Evans in search of infield depth. Conveniently, the Mariners (who had just acquired Ozzie Guillen to compliment Harold Reynolds) are shopping 24-year old middle infielder Omar Vizquel, and are willing to trade him to shore up their lineup. In the end, I send 39-year old Dwight Evans (in his real-life final season) to Seattle for him. Hilariously, this might actually be a better haul than they actually got for him. Maybe I lose some of his ability shifting him to second, but at the same time, maybe it just makes things even easier than him. Either way, my pitching staff will probably be thrilled to have a double-play combo of Ripken and Vizquel, and it leaves me about $10.5 million in budget room (huge, since I’m spending about $10.4 million right now).

I feel pretty comfortable with my lineup now, and decide to simulate up to Opening Days.

New from around the league: Mo Vaughn retires a prospect. I also turn down a bunch of trades where other teams try and send me outfielders in exchange for one of my two first basemen or prospect David Segui, including players like Kirk Gibson, Vince Coleman, and Von Hayes, among others. I turn them all down, as Anderson- Devereaux-Finley looks solid enough. Leo Gomez suffers a strained oblique in spring training, which gives me a minor high of schadenfreude. Anyway, the team owners gives me his expectatons: a .500 season. That’s… a little worrisome, actually, since the real 1991 Orioles only went 67-95.

We lose the opener to the White Sox, 9-0. Kevin Brown’s Baltimore debut is rough, with 7 ER in 5.2 innings. This may take time to pay dividends. Mike Mussina wins us the next one, 4-3, with 8 strong innings. I can’t really go this slow with the scale I want to cover, so I’ll just skip ahead: we escape May at 9-10, which isn’t too bad. The pitching has been rough, with Brown and Mussina at ERA+s of 91 and 80. Arthur Rhodes, of all people, has emerged as the ace, while Curt Schilling hold up the bullpen in limited work. Hot starts from Finley, Anderson, and Horn have covered for Cal Ripken’s slow start (although he’s picking up a little). We’re in third place, despite the record.

Mike Mussina gets injured in early May and goes on the 60-day DL (with an 8-week recovery time). By early June, we sit in second, although with a rather mediocre 25-23 record. By the end of the month, we’ve slipped to 36-38 and fourth place. We’re still there two weeks later at the end of the All-Star break, at a 39-42 record. Not bad, especially with Mussina set to come off the DL in under 2 weeks. I finally promote Schilling, who’s been solid in set-up and eventually as closer, to the rotation because Roy Smith, Mussina’s replacement, has been pretty bad. I have a reason to keep him there, as the day Mussina gets back, Arthur Rhodes (who has regressed to solid-yet-unimpressive) finds himself on the DL for three weeks.

Chris Hoiles, the team’s second-best player (by WAR, at least) goes down for 6-7 weeks just after that. This will be rough. I have Bob Melvin as my back up, but I look for other options, as he struggles in the role. The Dodgers are shopping Gary Carter, so I decide why not; he can take over Evans’ real-world role of “Hall of Fame-level player with a year-end pit stop in Baltimore”. This marks the entirety of my trade deadline action, although it only cost my a 39-year-old backup catcher in AAA.

On August 2nd, we stand at 52-49, only a game and a half behind the Cleveland Indians.We take over first briefly in the middle of the month, although Carter proves ineffectual, getting benched after 10 games of hitting .182/.206/.212 (to be fair, that was why he was on the block). Curt Schilling goes down for a week, while Mussina has struggled since returning. Brown remains solid though, so there’s that. We slide at the end of the month, ending at 64-65, third place but still only 1.5 back.

We finally get the entire lineup together, but it looks like it’s too late. We bounce around .500 for most of August…until by some miracle, we put together a great run and move into a tie for first with one game left. Games 152-161 see us go 8-2 while the first place Blue Jays falter to 4-6, leaving us both at 84-77. And then, by some even greater miracle, the Blue Jays blow game the final game of the season-Baltimore and its young rotation take the AL East by a single game!

Granted, we would have finished tied for fourth in the AL West, and we have to upset the 99-win White Sox, but it’s a start. But we do have a strong lineup, led by Cal Ripken’s 7.4 WAR season, and even if they’re not fully developed, you have to like a playoff rotation that starts Schilling-Mussina-Brown. On the other side of the playoffs, the NL sees the Braves at the Expos to start round one.

We lose game 1 8-5, when Mike Flanagan implodes to give up 3 runs in the eighth after a solid but unspectacular. Game 2 is closer, with Arthur Rhodes getting the start due to rest for Brown and Mussina, but we still fall 3-2. Kevin Brown leads us to victory in Baltimore, though, throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout while Mike Devereaux provides both our runs off an RBI triple and an RBI walk (Melido Perez walked 7 in eight innings for the White Sox; between those and the five hits, it’s a minor miracle we only managed two runs). Mussina continues the trend, gutting out a quality start the next day (8 innings, 3 earned) to slightly edge out Jack McDowell’s 8-inning, 4-run complete game.

Mike Flanagan picks up his second loss of the series the day after that, though, giving up 4 runs in 1.1 innings to follow Arthur Rhodes’s 4 earned in 7 innings (with 12 strikeouts). Final score is 8-6. Kevin Brown has a rough outing the next game back in the windy city, spelling the end for our season after a 6-2 loss. Meanwhile, the Montreal Expos topple the Braves to meet the ChiSox. That’s a heck of a World Series, and part of me wishes it had actually happened. The series goes a full seven games, with the Expos eventually taking home the trophy. The final game is the only lopsided one, with the Expos winning 12-2 after scores of 1-4, 5-1. 2-6, 3-2, 2-1, and 2-3. Oil Can Boyd goes 2-1 in the series.

And so I go into the offseason. Also, I know I said that I wanted to experiment with a big three, but as long as I’m trying to build the best team, I figured I might as well draft Pedro Martinez since he was available. Who knows how this will turn out in the near future?

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