It’s about time Detroit Tigers moved Comerica Park’s fences in! But there’s a bigger story

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are moving in the fences at Comerica Park — finally.

But the real story is in the details, because they offer a glimpse into how Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris is changing this organization one small — but significant — detail at a time.

First, he listens. Then he studies the numbers. Then he acts.

During exit interviews with Tigers relievers after the 2022 season, Harris and manager A.J. Hinch heard the sightlines in the Tigers bullpen were horrible, and the pitchers were having a hard time watching the games.

I mean — wait a second? The park has been there for more than two decades — and the bullpen in left field since 2005 — and they are just now figuring this out?

MENDING FENCES:Tigers to move in CF wall, change outfield dimensions at Comerica Park for 2023

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023:Can A.J. Hinch recapture magic touch in third season?

So when the fences get moved in — 10 feet in center (from the remeasured 422 feet, despite the “420′” on the fence), making it a much more reasonable 412 feet from home plate — they are going to improve the seating in the bullpen and give the relief pitchers a better view of the game.

Maybe that sounds like a small detail. A small change in the grand scheme of things.

But it’s also telling.

You want your relief pitchers, y’know, actually watching the game, right?

You want them paying attention and watching every at-bat and picking up small competitive clues, right?

So Harris listened and he made changes. That’s encouraging.

It says something important, and the players are clearly getting the message.

“I really love the message it sends — it’s like, OK, we’re not going to do the same things that we’ve always done and expect different results,” catcher Eric Haase told the Free Press on Wednesday.

A wall built for Riley Greene

The center-field wall will be lowered to 7 feet, as well, which is another detail that shouldn’t be overlooked.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was part of a small group who walked around the warning track in Comerica Park as Harris pointed out all the changes.

I looked up at the center-field wall and envisioned a certain young outfielder jumping up and robbing homers.

Harris envisions the same thing.

“Don’t be mistaken, the wall height and Riley Greene are related,” Harris said. “He’s pretty good at robbing home runs and I think a 7-foot wall is gonna give him more opportunity to rob home runs and help our pitchers out, so hopefully you can do it safely.”

I get the feeling nothing is by accident with Harris.

If Greene has a special skill, such as jumping up and taking away homers, you might as well create an environment where he can do that more often.

It’s not crazy to think that Greene is going to be roaming the Tigers’ outfield for the next decade or so.

He has an amazing jump when the ball is hit to him, but he’s not the fastest guy in the world. Not the slowest, either, but still, shrinking the outfield will allow him to make more plays and cover a greater percentage of the outfield.

Another thing the Tigers are doing?

Putting in better padding and making the wall more forgiving to crash into.

Tigers outfielders, more than anybody, will benefit from that, considering they play 81 games a year in that park.

“Hopefully, the new padding and the new structure of the walls will keep him healthy longer,” Harris said of Greene. “Again, hopefully you can make those electric home run robberies that we love as baseball people and the fans love to watch.”

MAKING MOVES:Why Tigers acquired these three position players in trade with Philadelphia Phillies

Walls have mental effects

I suspect Tigers fans have only one question: Will we see more home runs?

The answer: Yes.

But it’s still going to be a massive ballpark.

The Tigers studied several options, analyzing scoring impact soffensively and defensively.

“Those studies suggest that there will be a modest impact on home runs and run-scoring without changing the profile of the park,” Harris said. “We expect it to continue to play like a big ballpark. So, you know, we plan to build pitching staffs and defenses that help us grab some value on the margins there in each of those areas. We also will seek to reshape an offense that can effectively score runs in this environment. If we can do those things, we should have an advantage 81 times a year. And again, that’s an advantage that we just can’t overlook from a baseball standpoint.”

The real value might be psychological, though.

Plenty of Tigers have complained about the Comerica Park dimensions over the years.

OK, check that — I mean, plenty of Tigers hitters.

“We feel like too many balls that were barreled to dead center field did not end up being extra-base hits,” Harris said. “We feel like it’s very dispiriting for a hitter to barrel a ball to dead center and make a 419-foot out. And so if a few more of those end up being home runs or extra-base hits, we think it’ll have a positive impact on our hitters psyche and ultimately, a positive impact on our team.”

So they are bringing in the fences.

And lowering them.

And putting better padding on them.

And improving sight lines for the relief pitchers.

None of these things are earth-shattering.

But taken together, they become clear examples of how Harris and Hinch are making alterations and putting their stamp on this organization — one detail at a time.

The approach seems reasoned, methodical and part of a bigger plan, as Harris tries to squeeze a competitive advantage out of everything he can.

Kinda refreshing, no?

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. 

To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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