Once again this year, I was given a chance to try this year’s edition of Out of the Park Baseball (Out of the Park Baseball 18) and review it in some way. For those who are unaware, Out of the Park Baseball is a simulation game, meaning it focuses on the managerial and front office side of the game. But even that is underselling it; it's the most complete experience a baseball fan could want in this regard. You can simulate the current season into the future, or start from any historical season in history, or even generate an entirely fictitious league.
In the past, I’ve used the game’s amazing simulation abilities to run some scenarios of various levels of craziness; this year, I wanted to go in a slightly different direction though. Something equally as impossible as putting Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Kevin Brown on the same team in their prime. Rather than getting deep into one scenario, I want to instead use it to re-run the same scenario many times, each time tweaking things and recording the results. The basis of this thought experiment is simple: every now and then, I'll sit and think about various "cores" of good teams, specifically things like how good the best stars on a team need to be, or how many of them a team needs.*
*For one example of some of this, see my ramblings on Lou Piniella and the Mariners from when he was on the Veterans Committee Hall of Fame ballot this past offseason.
In practical terms: I'm going to take the 2017 Padres*, and I'm going to add Mike Trout and see if they make the playoffs.** If they don't, I'll go back to the start of 2017 and add a second amazing player; if they don't make it that time, start the process over a third time, and so on.
*While they aren't the worst team in the majors right now, I settled on this example before the season. It just took me a while to carve out the free time to play, at which point it was too late to switch. Either way, it's hard to argue that a team looked more in it to tank in 2017 than San Diego.
**Some may argue that this isn’t too different than the 2017 Angels. I’m not sure I could argue against that claim too vigorously.
Without further ado, here is the first part of my grand experiment for this year:
ATTEMPT 1: 2017
I'm going to keep things simple and start with a 1-for-1 swap (you know, to keep things fair). In exchange for my new center fielder Trout, I give up my own starting center fielder Manuel Margot.* It technically sends me over-budget, but...I feel like the owner will understand my thinking. These force trades to set up the roster will be the only ones I'll allow myself in this exercise; if I decide to make a run at October, I'll have to swing a trade the normal way.
*I used the game’s Commissioner Mode to force a trade, then switched to being solely San Diego’s GM once this initial break from reality was set up.
We lose opening day. Mike Trout goes 2-3 with a double and a walk, but gets no one to drive in and has no one to drive him in en route to an 8-2 loss. We get swept in the four-game series and lose shortstop Erick Aybar, so I'm already getting the sense this won't be the year for San Diego (I call up Luis Sardinias from AAA and sign Munenori Kawasaki as AAA depth, possibly Major League depth if things really go south). At least we win our fifth game, though (finally). Mike Trout is already triple slashing .467/.619/.933, good for half a WAR already.
After one month, we're in last place in the NL West at 8-19. We're 10 games out of first, but at least we don't have the worst record in the Majors, or even the second worst (we are the worst in the NL, though). Hunter Renfroe won Rookie of the Month, but Mike Trout has cooled off to "only" a 128 OPS+ and 0.7 WAR. We also close the month on a 10-game losing streak.
Things don't really get better next month, as we extend that 10-game losing streak all the way to 23 games. At the end of it, we're 8-32, which is giving me a pretty convincing sign that Mike Trout alone was not the answer I was looking for. We're far and away the last team to reach double-digit wins. Before the end of the month, our nominal ace Jhoulys Chacin goes on the DL with bone chips. We finish the month 16-40, far and away the worst record in the Majors. There is no consolation; even Mike Trout is having an unremarkable (by his standards) .256/.373/.437/6 HR campaign. At 1.3 WAR, he's only barely in the top five for NL center fielders, so it seems San Diego has finally done what Los Angeles couldn't and broken him (he's still leading the team in the category, of course).
Come July, we're still easily the worst team in the Majors (28-53), but the Giants have worst record of any division leader, so at least it doesn't look quite as bad as it really is. Our pitching staff is especially a mess; seven of our pitchers have an ERA+ of 87 or below, and three others sit between 104 and 109. I shuffle some of the deck chairs on the Titanic, trading away some of the worst offenders (namely Craig Stammen, Clayton Richard, and Jered Weaver) to make space for literally anybody else. But at least Mike Trout has bounced back to 147 OPS+ (off of a .278/.412/.480 batting line, but with only 11 home runs and 5 steals), good for a respectable 2.9 Wins Above Replacement that puts him just outside of the top ten in the NL. He also looks very likely to be our only representative at the All-Star Game, not that we have very many other deserving players anyway. Among the rest of the team, only two players have even more than 1 Win: Yangervis Solarte at 2.5 and Wil Myers at 1.1. In what ends up being an apt microcosm of our season, Trout goes 0-3 with 3 strikeouts in the Midsummer Classic.
It was at this point that I realized how futile managing this version of the team was, so I abdicated control and decided to simulate the rest of the season. At the start of August, we were 39-67, passing both Kansas City and Atlanta in overall record. And surprisingly, things kept improving from there. A month later, we still led the Braves and Royals, and had leapfrogged the Angels, A's, Reds, and Brewers in the process. I mean, we were still last place in the NL West and 20 games out of first and all, so it wasn't all great, but one step at a time.
In the end, the Braves would pass us, but we'd stay ahead of the rest of that bunch, finishing 68-94. Mike Trout finished his first year with the Friars with 22 homers, only 9 steals, a .278/.415/.502 batting line, a 154 OPS+, and 5.8 Wins Above Replacement. Not quite the type of performance he's come to be known for, but still solid.
And with that, the 2017 season draws to a close. It’s hard not to feel some disappointment, but it was clear from the start that Trout by himself wasn’t going to get this bunch in to October. Join us next time, as we search for the 2017-A timeline, where the Padres have a shiny new ace to go with their new MVP-caliber center fielder.