Ever since the day the Tigers moved into Comerica Park in 2000, it's been clear that the massive center field would not be friendly to hitters trying to find power there, and that's held true even though the fences have been brought in somewhat since the park initially opened. Since Statcast™ came online in 2015, we've been able to use the data to illustrate this fact even more thoroughly, pointing out last year just how many hard-hit balls turned into outs in Detroit, and again this spring by using one of our new metrics to show that Miguel Cabrera may actually be underrated because of where he calls home.
Now that the Astros have renovated their center field, "Comerica National Park" has baseball's largest center-field dimensions, and it shows. In Thursday's 6-5 Tigers victory over the Orioles, we saw just how seriously Comerica can turn crushed baseballs into outs -- and, somewhat, surprisingly, a home run that tops a 2017 leaderboard for an entirely opposing reason.
Take, for example, poor Nicholas Castellanos, who stepped up in the bottom of the sixth to smash a Dylan Bundy fastball at 105.9 mph with a 27-degree launch angle. That combination has a Hit Probability of 95 percent, meaning it's just about always a hit. Actually, why stop there? It's just about always a home run.
N.Castellanos crushed a ball a projected 422 ft today at Comerica for an out. Guess how that usually ends up? Dingers, taters, & homers. pic.twitter.com/FgvckbgQLg
But not here, not even with a projected distance of 422 feet. (Yes, 422, even though the wall in Detroit is marked at 420; projected distances show where the ball would have landed if no fielder or fence stopped it first.) It would have flown over the wall in Baltimore by 22 feet, if this game were played there. But here, in Detroit? Adam Jones settled under it for an easy catch; so easy, in fact, that it had a Catch Probability of 95 percent.
That's a good lesson, by the way, of how Hit Probability and Catch Probability can both be very high -- they do not need to add up to 100 percent. That's because they're based on different inputs (exit velocity and angle for Hit; distance needed, opportunity time and direction for Catch) and because Catch Probability excludes home runs, as fielders obviously have no chance to catch those.
Castellanos, as you might have expected, "barrelled" it. That's our term for the best possible batted balls, the ones that not only fall for a hit a minimum of 50 percent of the time, but have a 1.500 slugging percentage, too. (That's just the minimum for entry; the average is actually more like .820 and 3.000. It's the best thing a hitter can possibly do.) The point being, if you show enough skill to barrel up a ball like that, you deserve to get a base hit out of it. You deserve an extra-base hit, really.
"I thought I hit it good enough," Jones said after the game. "[I] caught it off the end a little bit, but with how it was flying ... I thought I had it good enough. But it didn't get out, so it doesn't matter what I think."
Jones had hit the ball at least 412 feet 24 previous times since 2015. Twenty-three of those became homers. The one time it didn't, he hit the top of the wall in Minnesota and settled for a double. No wonder Jones thought he'd hit it well enough -- but don't worry, he'd get his fair share of good batted-ball luck on Thursday, too (more on that in a second).
In the bottom of the seventh, it happened again, though slightly less dramatically. Tigers catcher Alex Avila took a Miguel Castro pitch and hit it 103.1 mph at 32 degrees, a combination with a 73 percent Hit Probability, and launched it a projected 402 feet. A home run in most parks, it didn't reach the warning track in Detroit. Jones hauled it in easily. It was Avila's longest out of the Statcast™ era.
That adds up to three 400-foot outs, and that's the second most of any game in the Statcast™ era, behind a July 29, 2015, game where we saw four such outs. That game pitted the Astros and the Tigers. We assume you already know which team was at home that day.
"It seemed like there were about 10 balls hit out in that same little triangle out there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Everybody's playing in the same ballpark. They had some balls that would have been home runs in most parts in center field, too. I actually think we were a little more fortunate than they were."
Showalter was right about that last part, because lest we leave you with the impression that Detroit is a completely impossible park to hit in, know that this is not exactly true. You see, we told you above that Jones crushed a 412-foot out. What we didn't tell you is that in his previous plate appearance, he hit a homer ... at all of 88.7 mph at 30 degrees. That's a combination that, outside of one time Edwin Encarnacion found the short porch in Houston, had never been a Statcast-tracked home run before.
Meanwhile, Adam Jones's HR today, 88.7 mph / 30 deg... has literally never been a homer outside of one time in Houston before. Weird day. pic.twitter.com/8ZTXzAGz28
It was the softest-hit home run of the season. It was the softest-hit home run an Oriole has hit in the three years of Stacast tracking. It was, believe it or not, 16 mph slower and 62 feet shorter than the ball Jones would hit his next time up for an out. Comerica Park is a place where crushed baseballs go to die ... and softly hit ones can ride the winds right on out. It might just be the most interesting stadium in the game.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.