Following his first career walk-off hit, an eleventh-inning homer against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, July 21, Detroit Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos shared his feelings about Comerica Park, his baseball home for the entirety of his seven-year MLB career:
This park’s a joke. It’s to the point where, how are we going to be compared to the rest of the people in the league for power numbers and OPS and slugging and all this stuff, when we’ve got a yard out here that’s 420 feet straight across to center field? We get on second base, third base, and (opposing players) looking like, “how do you guys do this?” We play 81 games here, I don’t want to hear it about your two you hit that are questionable.
There’s no reason that I hit a ball 434 feet off Anibal Sanchez and it goes in the first row. That shouldn’t happen.
Let’s just say Miggy played his whole career in Yankee Stadium or Great American Ballpark or whatever – him and [Barry] Bonds are already the greatest hitters, period, there’s no discussion – but the fact that he’s played in Pro Player Stadium, the Marlins’ old park and then Comerica Park, there’s a discussion.
We do have ways of comparing player performances independent of the parks in which they performed, of course, but that’s beside the point. Castellanos wanted the Tigers to trade him prior to this season, and he probably still wanted that to happen as last month’s trade deadline approached. If I had to guess (I don’t have to, obviously), he made this statement because he’s frustrated with the lack of interest in his services from other teams and believes his fairly average batting numbers– which, he believes, would be much better if he played half his games in a smaller park– are to blame for that lack of interest. Subsequently developed information from local media sources apparently desperate to stoke fan outrage seems to confirm this:
Castellanos almost certainly would have more homers if he played in a hitter-friendlier park, but there isn’t a single MLB team or salary arbitrator (see Art. VI, Sec. E, Part 10(c) (defining admissible statistics in salary arbitrations)) evaluating him based on his raw, unadjusted hitting numbers. As long as he’s talking about those numbers, though, this may be the point to note that his career line at Comerica Park (.287/.339/.470) is better than the one he’s posted in road games (.264/.312/.454). The fact that this year’s split is running very strongly in the opposite direction likely is fueling his current frustration, however.
Looking at Castellanos the way other teams’ general managers (or MLB salary arbitrators) look at him requires utilization of offensive metrics that account for environmental variances that exist across the MLB landscape. After all, consider the inverse situation: what if Castellanos came up as a member of the Orioles, and Al Avila was evaluating whether to acquire him? Avila obviously would be foolish to assume that a home-run-hitting resume built largely in the compact confines of Camden Yards would continue in Detroit. Teams don’t care about unadjusted outputs and instead have constructed elaborate models designed to (a) analyze inputs and (b) project how those inputs will lead to outputs tailored and relevant to their team’s specific circumstances. While the details of these models (usually) are proprietary, there are some publicly available tools we can use to get ourselves most of the way there. These range from the granular or elemental– think of things like plate discipline and contact quality, which themselves aren’t much dependent on the distance between home and the outfield wall at a given field– to the comprehensive and results-oriented– think of the batting metrics about which I’ve written here in the past, like OPS+, wRC+, and DRC+, all of which have built-in adjustments accounting for the differences between ballparks. These, not things like home-run totals, as Castellanos’ commentary implies, are examples of the lenses through which players are evaluated and paid.
For whatever it’s worth, though, from the beginning of the 2016 season through the end of last month, Castellanos’ slugging percentage was higher in home games (.492) than in road games (.485). He also was a better hitter at Comerica Park than he was away from it according to wRC+ (121/115) over that same period.
Regardless, the Tigers granted Castellanos’ trade wish, albeit belatedly, by sending him and some cash to the Chicago Cubs forty seconds before last week’s trade deadline, Detroit GM Al Avila’s second move of the day. Whether Castellanos appreciates the irony in his being traded to a team that plays its home games in a park that currently is suppressing home runs to a greater extent than Comerica Park remains to be seen. With his departure, Miguel Cabrera became the only member of the 2013 Tigers team that, in my opinion, was one Prince Fielder TOOTBLAN away from a World-Series championship, still in Detroit.
The return for a partial season of Castellanos’ services (he’ll hit free agency in November) was two right-handed pitchers, Paul Richan and Alex Lange. The Cubs drafted Richan out of college (University of San Diego) in the second round of the 2018 draft. In seventeen starts for High-A Myrtle Beach this season, Richan posted a 3.97 ERA. Following the trade, he’s made one start for High-A Lakeland, and it did not go well (5 IP, 6 R, 9 H (2 HR)). Chicago used a first-round pick on Lange, who had been playing at LSU, in the 2017 draft. He made seven starts for Double-A Tennessee in 2019, registering a 3.92 ERA. Since the trade, he’s made one appearance (not a start) for Double-A Erie (2 IP, 1 R, 2 H). The best-case MLB scenario for Lange, age twenty-three, may be as a deception-based reliever. Not really a great case scenario, but whatever. Maybe there will be some hitters in Detroit who can provide these guys some leads to protect by the time they hit the big leagues.