Tex has made 211 PAs in 2010, versus 707 all of last year. Stat-minded fans, such as myself, can no longer claim a small sample when talking about Tex's performance. The rule of thumb in statistics is that a small sample is 30 or fewer observations. Tex's resurgence in early May was a borderline small sample. His season to date is not, and can therefore be compared to his 2009 season.
The data below are taken from Fangraphs, and compare a variety of relevant offensive metrics from the 2009 and 2010 seasons:
My conclusion after examining these data does not support my hypothesis. My hypothesis had been that Tex's season to date would provide evidence that he was doing something new that would be identifiable in the data. My conclusion is that he just ain't hitting the ball right, but his approach is mostly the same.
His BABIP is well below both his 2009 and career numbers. To a certain extent this indicates Tex is getting unlucky, but I'm more inclined to argue that he is making weaker contact on pitches he usually hammers. This plays out in the kinds of hits he's producing. He's hitting slightly fewer line drives and more ground balls, and the balls he's hitting in the air are carrying for homers at a greatly reduced rate. All of these outcomes can be attributed to hitting the ball poorly, versus past performance. They would also lower his BABIP.
Pitchers have noticed that Tex is not making his usual contact. Whereas last year pitchers would feed Mark a steady diet of breaking balls when they feared him, this year he's seeing more fastballs and cutters -- pitches that mostly stay in the zone. He's seeing fewer breaking pitches, indicating that pitchers feel confident they can get him out with the fastball.
Tex appears to be seeing the ball well. He is getting more pitches in the strike zone, and swinging at them more. He's also making contact more often when he swings, on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. The increased contact may help explain the lower BABIP. It may be that he's overanxious, making weaker contact on marginal (and in some cases bad) pitches, and putting them in play for easier outs.
The increase in fastballs may also explain why Tex is getting more first pitch strikes this year. The problem here is that Tex tends to take the first pitch, which is a good habit, but it's also putting him down in the count immediately.
Finally, Tex is both striking out and walking more. The strikeouts make sense. As stated above, Tex is getting more pitches to hit, but he's not hitting them. Many of these pitches in the zone will result in strikeouts. With respect to increased walks, it may be that Tex is looking to walk more often, to compensate for his poor hitting.
My hope entering this analysis was to find an obvious flaw in Tex's game, perhaps too many ground balls (or too few). On the whole, while there are some differences between this year and last, there are not many. The differences that do exist should point to a better season. Tex is seeing more fastballs (down to 91.1 mph on average from 91.4 mph last year, by the way) and should be crushing them. He's not, and his numbers are suffering. Whatever the cause for the poor contact, hopefully Kevin Long and Mark can figure this out soon. After yesterday's game, perhaps they have.