DETROIT — The walls are coming down and closing in at Comerica Park.
On Wednesday, the Tigers announced arguably their most speculated move of the offseason, the changing of their home park’s outfield dimensions:
• The center-field wall, the symbol of Comerica Park’s deep outfield, will be moved in from 422 to 412 feet, and lowered from 8 1/2 to 7 feet.
• The massive wall in right-center field above the out-of-town scoreboard will by lowered from 13 to 7 feet in height.
• The right-field wall will be lowered to the same height, from 8 1/2 to 7 feet.
Left field will be unchanged, but after research and laser measuring, the left-field corner dimensions have been corrected from 345 to 342 feet.
“This has been a topic of conversation for quite some time within our organization,” Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said in a statement. “We’re confident that this plan accomplishes our goals of improving offensive conditions on the hardest hit balls, while maintaining Comerica Park’s unique dimensions and style of play. These updates come after a great deal of research and feedback from all stakeholders in and around the organization, including our fans, players and front office.
“The outfield wall changes, combined with new rules from Major League Baseball in place this season, have the potential to create even more excitement and on field action for years to come.”
The changes come 20 years after the last alterations to Comerica Park’s dimensions, which brought in the fences from their original depths by putting the bullpens in front of the original left-field fence and adding seats where the bullpens originally stood behind the right-field wall. What had been a 395-foot distance in the left-field power alley was reduced to 370 feet, and the flagpole in left-center field — which had been in the field of play as an homage to Tiger Stadium — was instead at the back of the visitors’ bullpen.
The changes before the 2003 season made Comerica Park more fair to right-handed hitters, but the stadium has maintained its reputation as a pitcher-friendly park. Park Factors, a metric that measures a park’s friendliness for offense, have shown Comerica Park to be hitter-friendly for home runs in just eight seasons since it opened in 2000, according to Statcast. Six of those seasons have been during Miguel Cabrera’s Tigers tenure. The park has been rated hitter-friendly for doubles in just seven seasons.
By contrast, Comerica Park has rated hitter-friendly for triples in every season, a reflection of the park’s deep outfield gaps.
The Tigers have been looking into ballpark changes since last season, a point referenced by team owner Christopher Ilitch. The effort represented the delicate balance between baseball competitiveness and fan entertainment.
The research was well underway before Harris took over as president of baseball operations last fall.
“My general opinion on dimensions is that I would prefer to be on one side of the aisle or the other,” Harris said during MLB’s Winter Meetings last month. “I would prefer to have the opportunity to have some asymmetry in the environments that we’re playing. If we’re on one side of the aisle as a pitchers’ park, or on the other side of the aisle as a hitters’ park, we have the opportunity to build a team a certain way to take advantage of the dimensions 81 times a year, because we are the only team that plays in our environment 81 times a year. So I would prefer not to be right down the middle when it comes to that.”
The changes seem to accomplish this goal, producing more hitter outcomes on deep drives while maintaining the stadium’s reputation for extra-base hits in the gaps and producing action on basepaths. While the center-field wall is moving in, it will remain 10 feet deeper than the MLB average and the second deepest in the Majors behind Coors Field’s 415-foot center-field fence, according to the Tigers.
The lower fence heights, meanwhile, should encourage more leaping plays and home run robberies, which have largely been limited to left field.
Since Statcast began tracking batted-ball distances in 2015, Comerica Park has had more outs of 410 or more feet (55) than any other Major League park; Coors Field (48) is the only other park with more than 18. Comerica Park also has 13 of the 38 outs of 420-plus feet hit in that time span. That includes Riley Greene’s long out to center against the Astros last Sept. 14 — initially measured at 424 feet, later adjusted to 422.