“Now I want to play more years,” Cabrera joked on Instagram, complete with laughing emojis.
The reaction was fitting, considering how often Cabrera has been used over the years as a poster child for Comerica Park’s impact on power hitters.
“You should look at his numbers,” Nick Castellanos said of Cabrera in the summer of 2019, a week before being traded. “If he got to play at some of the other parks that these guys play in, imagine what his numbers would look like. I think that just speaks to how special that man is.”
Over the years, many others have discussed what Cabrera’s numbers might look like in a smaller ballpark. So when news broke about the change in dimensions at Comerica, it naturally led some to wonder what impact these adjustments would have had on Cabrera’s numbers had they happened earlier.
Evan Woodbery first addressed this last week at MLive.com, with help from Chris Brown of Woodward Sports. Still, with the data and video resources available through Statcast and Baseball Savant, I wanted to take a look.
One thing to keep in mind is that even with these changes, Comerica Park is still big. So while moving in the center-field fence from 422 feet — it turns out it was two feet deeper than labeled on the fence all this time — to 412 feet seems significant, it doesn’t make the park a home run haven.
Cabrera has had just two outs of 412 feet or more at Comerica since Statcast began tracking in 2015. One was this 423-foot out to just right of straightway center, where former Tiger Austin Jackson was waiting on the track:
The other traveled just left of straightaway center, taking Minnesota’s Byron Buxton a step shy of the wall to make the grab on a 416-foot drive:
Cabrera has three other drives of 410-plus feet that stayed in the park and went for base hits, including this 412-foot double off the center-field wall against the Twins on Aug. 29, 2020 (he’d gone oppo into the right-field seats for a two-run homer earlier in that game):
Those are the balls to center that might have been impacted by the wall coming in 10 feet. Just as important is the change in right-center field, where the wall that contains the out-of-town scoreboard is coming in by two feet and dropping down in height to seven feet.
Right-center tormented Cabrera for most of his time in Detroit, given his penchant for hitting the ball with authority to the opposite field. Here’s a 411-foot drive off Cleveland’s Zach McAllister that hit high off the wall and led to Cabrera being thrown out at second base:
Once you move over to right field and look at opposite-field hits that might have been homers with a shorter wall, it becomes more of a judgment call. Here’s a long single off Nestor Cortes on Sept. 10, 2019, measured by Statcast at 374 feet, but which hit just above the 365-foot marker in right:
Two days later, Cabrera hit another ball high off the right-field wall, this time closer towards the corner. Statcast measured it at 348 feet, but with a shorter wall, this might have been gone:
There are probably a few others toward the right-field corner, like this 333-foot double last season — though this one was near the right-field camera well, the only area where the outfield wall won’t be seven feet high when the changes are complete:
Keep in mind, too, that Statcast was not in place for Cabrera’s first seven seasons as a Tiger, all during his prime, including his Triple Crown campaign in 2012. A look at his spray chart from that season and ’13 shows several doubles at or off fences, though not all of them happened at Comerica Park.
You get the idea. These new dimensions wouldn’t have made a massive difference in Cabrera’s home run total had they been in place all along, but they would’ve made some difference. As it is, Cabrera will enter the 2023 season ranking 27th on MLB’s all-time list with 507 career home runs, two shy of former teammate Gary Sheffield and just four shy of Hall of Famer Mel Ott. Just six more homers would put Cabrera in 23rd place. The top 20 is a little more distant: Ted Williams, Willie McCovey and former White Sox rival Frank Thomas are tied at 521.
Cabrera hit just five home runs last year, four of them at Comerica Park. He’ll get one season with the new outfield dimensions, and it will come at age 40. But as Castellanos pointed out, the fact that Cabrera hit so many homers while playing his entire career in big home ballparks in Miami and Detroit adds to the legend.