Joe Maddon put it best.
"It's kind of getting freaky," said the Tampa Bay manager.
It is bizarre. No question about it.
As we sit here, 40 games into the Red Sox' season, the parity in Major League Baseball has jumped off the page. There are exactly two American League teams that have managed to somewhat separate themselves, with this weekend's visitor to Fenway Park, the Tigers, carrying a healthy 24-12 mark, and Houston wallowing at 14-27.
Everybody else? All lumped together.
To give you an idea of this season's dynamic, a year ago there were 21 teams that had a run differential of 17 or more runs one way or the other. This time around there are just 11 clubs with such a margin.
So why are teams all of a sudden beating each other up like never before? Maddon thinks he has at least a partial answer.
"It's just other teams jumping on the analytic bandwagon," the Rays manager said. "It's the new age of baseball. We've gone through different stretches. We went through the dead-ball era, and then the steroidal era and then the post-steroidal era. And now it's plus analytics, so you've got players who aren't as strong on a nightly basis because amphetamines are no longer part of the landscape, with a pitcher playing once every five days who should be fresh armed with all this information. In the past, defensive information was a coach on the bench drawing lines. It wasn't accumulated from every game this team has played over the last several years. There's a big difference."
Added Maddon: "The fact that everybody is using at the level that we are it really does draw us together. A lot of the advantages of it that is being had are pitching and defense advantages, not hitting advantages. The fact that all these teams are drawing from the same pool of information now, it's almost like you're looking in a mirror on a nightly basis. Sometimes it's going to come down to some kind of baseball break, where they're going to hit a ball that's hit softly and falls in. We've had a lot of hard-hit balls caught this year."
It makes sense.
League batting average and runs both are slightly down from a year ago. Home runs are down. Strikeouts are up. It has become more of a pitching and defense sort of game, which, as Maddon explained, might be due to some of the pitchers and teams being privy to even more information.
"Pitchers receiving data, information and video is very helpful," he said. "A hitter receiving data, information and video, I don't think that really supplies any advantage to the hitter because the pitcher is the proactive one. Now, if the hitter guesses properly he might have an advantage on that pitch. I think everything that's going on in the game today really slants to the benefit of pitching and defense.
"Last year it really started showing up. It was really fun playing teams that didn't want to do any of that. It was really kind of cool. But now the fact that everybody is trying to utilize it, it's almost like the same pot of information. Everybody is cooking the same stew right now. You look out on the field and you see them doing different things."
While it's difficult for the average baseball fan to identify where additional analytics have altered games, there is one aspect of each contest which is easy to uncover -- defensive shifts.
Maddon's hypothesis that more and more teams are embracing new ways to view the game is no more evident than when watching how infielders are moving about.
"On the bigger picture, I think teams that have been ahead of the curve in terms of using analytics have demonstrated an advantage and other teams are noticing that and maybe bringing in people that are experts in that area that can help provide an edge in some form or fashion," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "But on the field there's no doubt the shifting has amped up.
"I've noticed it more this year. I look within our division as the main example. Baltimore has started to shift more. The Yankees, by far. ... They're the team that has shown the most change from year to year, and because of it, it really stands out."
Maddon also cites the Yankees as the poster boys for flipping the script.
The first time the Red Sox went into the Bronx the Yankees shifted one way or another on every single one of the visitors' hitters. This is after staying relatively stagnant defensively in previous seasons. For example, for the first time in his life, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley found himself facing a shift when going against New York.
"It was," he said, "a little strange."
"They never shifted," said Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield of the Yankees. "They've done it, and a bunch of other teams have fallen in line with it. It's kind of neat. It's not neat when they take away hits."
What it has done is force some hitters to adjust. Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is a prime example, trying to reclaim his "lane" by going the other way more than ever before. Players are also bunting more than a year ago, albeit sometimes not all that well.
Many of the frustrations that a hitter like David Ortiz has had to endure for the last eight years are now manifesting themselves with players nobody would ever commit a defensive strategy to before. But the ploy seems to be working, which will only lead to continued alterations.
"The field has literally shifted, it really has. And it's not going to come back," Maddon said. "The only thing that would cause it to come back are the hitters themselves playing a different game where they're more willing to use the opposite field. That would bring them back somewhat. Bunting might bring them back a little bit. There are ways for hitters to combat what's going on right now and then you have to have the hitter willing to do it. I also believe that this is something which speaks to the minor leagues, where you start looking at the tendencies of your players and really be cognizant of what they may be at the big league level and maybe encourage them to do more of other things at the minor leagues so by the time they get here it's not a huge adjustment."
"You're going to find how talented the hitter is," Farrell said. "That's where the great unknown is even for the average major league hitter. Do they look to change, or do they look to incorporate the bunt a little bit more, just to get one of their lanes back? ... The competitive advantage, at least in terms of shifting, is less than it was."
Yet, as Farrell explained, through all the added information, and altered execution, the results still will be reliant on execution.
Teams have prioritized developing good, young pitching, along with pounding into the hurlers' heads the importance of making the right pitch at the right time.
"The thing that I will always contend is that advanced scouting report for pitchers are null and void if you don't get strike one," Farrell said. "How you get strike one can be a byproduct of what some of the trends are, how aggressive a given hitter or what area of the plate you go to. The numbers can draw a profile of a given guy, I get that. But if you don't execute strike one and then look to exploit a hitter's weakness based on the numbers, you're fighting back in the count and losing a guy's leverage. It still comes back to the most important things are a pitcher knowing what their strengths are and then being able to work off of that."
There are other factors for the perceived parity. Injuries. Teams locking up young talent. Or something as simple as some clubs finding any kind of cohesion in the season's first month before going on a warm weather roll.
But, for the time being, it sure looks like the playing field has been leveled thanks to the acceptance of some key analytical intricacies. Teams can't afford to turn any more blind eyes.
"I think it has something to do with it," Maddon said. "The percentage of the impact, I'm not quite sure. But everybody using information to a new level has to have something to do with it. It's definitely different."