Time for Detroit Tigers to even Comerica Park's playing field for hitters

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

Go out to center field, they say.

Critics suggest that, if ever afforded the chance, walk out there, 420 feet from home plate. Stand with your back against the padded wall and see for yourself how big this ballpark is.

On Sunday afternoon, the spacious dimensions of Comerica Park – where the usual home run has gone to die – came under attack once again, courtesy of right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, who offered a not-so-subtle parting shot at his career-long home ballpark.

“This park is a joke,” Castellanos said. “It’s to the point where, how are we going to be compared to the rest of the people in the league in terms of power numbers, OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), slugging and all of that stuff when we got a yard out here that’s 420 feet straight across center field?”

Comerica Park’s dimensions have been questioned since its opening in 2000, when the stadium featured an outrageous 370 feet in left field and 395 in left-center field, to go with baseball’s deepest straight-away center field at 420 feet.

Tigers right fielder Nicholas Castellanos tosses his bat in the fourth inning on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, at Comerica Park.

Three years later, the organization admitted its mistake, moving the left field fences in 25 feet and the bullpens from right field to left field.

Now, 16 years later, it’s time for the Tigers to take another look at how they can make Comerica Park fairer for hitters.

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The consensus among Tigers hitters is that the biggest problem comes between right-center field – which juts out to roughly 380 feet at its deepest point with an 11-foot, 6-inch wall – and left-center field.

“It’s very frustrating, because when you make good contact and you know you hit the ball very good, at least drop, you know?” Cabrera said. “But like I said, man, it’s our stadium, we gotta deal with this and that’s it. There’s nothing we can do.”

Only there is: The Tigers could move the center field fence in, conservatively to 410 feet or aggressively to 400 feet, and perhaps chop the additional three feet of fencing from the top of the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field.

“Bring in the center field to like, 400 feet,” Cabrera said. “We can make it work.”

Asked what kind of changes he would suggest, Castellanos said, “They can move in center and right-center field. There’s no reason I hit a ball 434 feet off (Nationals right-hander) Anibal Sanchez and it goes in the first row. That shouldn’t happen. But, I’m not in charge of that, either.”

Detroit Tigers' Nicholas Castellanos celebrates with Miguel Cabrera after hitting a solo home run against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning Friday, June 28, 2019, in Detroit.

No, and Castellanos likely won’t have to deal with the dimensions any longer: Wednesday’s series finale against the Phillies will be his last game as a Tiger at Comerica Park if he is traded by the July 31 trade deadline, as expected.

His comments were not a revelation. For years, The Tigers have privately – and on occasion, publicly – cursed Comerica Park’s cruelty toward hard-hit baseballs.

Castellanos, 27, grew up hearing about it, seeing it, and for the past six years, experiencing it while he sat among his veteran teammates on the World Series contenders of yesteryear.

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Those teams – with impressive power hitters like Cabrera, Prince Fielder, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and others – did their part in normalizing the numbers behind Comerica Park’s challenge. At face value, those numbers do not match the perception of the stadium’s prejudice against power hitters. But consider that for the better part of a decade, the Tigers had one of the most explosive offenses in baseball, buoyed by these sluggers in their prime, which likely skewed those numbers.

But while the spacious area allows for more hits to drop in – including doubles and triples, which factor into a player’s slugging percentage – and though the Tigers hitters find each outfield corner very fair, Comerica Park’s dimensions show disdain for home runs on a nearly nightly basis.

Take this past weekend’s series against the Blue Jays, for example. Niko Goodrum estimated that seven or eight batted balls – combined between both teams – would have went out in Cleveland, where the Tigers had just played.

“You try to use your field to your advantage,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And I get the frustration, because it is big out there, and there’s times where we hit the heck out of the ball and I’m saying the same thing the guys hitting them are. ‘Oh my, he crushed that ball.’

“That’s too bad, but that’s the way to hit. Every ballpark has its own little things and this one has some room out there.”

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Consider: The Tigers have the fewest amount of home runs to center field this season, with two. They are hitting .379 on hard-hit balls, lowest in baseball. And while much of this can be chalked up to their current rebuilding process, the Tigers have only one hitter with 13 home runs (Brandon Dixon), while every other team in baseball has at least two.

“Ask our pitchers the same question,” Gardenhire said, “And you’re going to get those guys pretty happy, because I think you talk to (lefty Tyler) Alexander the other day and he knows there’s a lot of balls hit a long ways out there and I think he felt pretty good. So, yeah, for the same question, he’s going to go, ‘I love this place.’”

Comerica Park was built for pitching. It was tweaked to accommodate hitters but needs another for it to truly become an unbiased park, a place where baseballs hit 400 feet should be home runs.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tyler Alexander throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Said Gardenhire: “I’m happy when when we’re pitching and sad when we’re hitting.

“This game is all about lift right now, and unfortunately for us this year, we’ve caught a lot of balls out there in that long gap against the ivy. And it helps us, but there’s times it helps us and times it hurts us. You just gotta take it for what it is.”

And with that, Gardenhire made a most ironic statement about Castellanos’ parting shot at a still far-too-big ballpark.

“Nicky making his statement, that’s what ballplayers do,” Gardnehire said. “They have an opinion and he made his and then he hits the game-winning home run and it goes out into the stands, which might not have been out some other ballparks. So, bingo-bango.”

Contact Anthony Fenech at afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.