I enjoy watching baseball partly because of how good major league hitters approach hitting. Matt Carpenter is a "good major league hitter" with a good approach. Matt Carpenter is one of the best hitters in baseball at working a count. Furthermore, there are very few players in baseball that can center a ball like Matt Carpenter consistently. Carpenter always has a plan as well, you can see it as he goes through a plate appearances. It's fantastic. Matt Carpenter is a joy to watch - a complete joy.
Matt Carpenter works the count quite well. What that means is that he faces a lot of pitches. This is especially important as a leadoff hitter. In 2014, Carpenter is currently tied for 5th in baseball, seeing 4.35 pitches per plate appearance. In 2013, Carpenter saw 4.12 pitches per plate appearance, placing him 19th in the league (out of qualified hitters). In 2012 as a part timer, Carpenter saw 4.11 pitches per plate appearances - for a team that emphasizes swinging early in the count when you pinch hit. While he placed in the top 15% of all hitters in this category in 2013, this year he is in the top 5% of all hitters at seeing pitches.
"Centering" a baseball is a term many baseball people use to mean that the player hits a lot of line drives. On Fangraphs, you can look at batted ball data ranging back to 2002. Since 2002, there have been 669 qualified batters - or batters with 1,000+ PAs. Out of those 669 batters, Matt Carpenter has the 6th highest line drive rate, putting him in the top 0.897% of all hitters in that time. Matt Carpenter has hit a line drive on 25.3% of his plate appearances.
Line drives typically lead to a player having a higher BABIP and higher batting average. Ground balls give players a slightly higher batting average than fly balls do, but they are the worst type of batted ball to have because they 1) lead to more double plays than LD or FB, and 2) the slugging percentage on ground balls is only slightly higher than the batting average, whereas on fly balls, the chance for an extra base hit is greatly enhanced. Out of the players with 1,000+ PA since 2002 that are also in the top 30 in line drive percentage, Matt Carpenter has the 7th lowest ground ball percentage and his fly ball percentage is tied for 5th. You can see that he has a plan through the statistics and just by using the old "eyeball test."
All of this awesome data (found on Fangraphs and ESPN.com) backs up my "eyeball test" about Carpenter's hitting ability. When you combine all of this data with the fact that he has a .334 batting average on balls he has put into play, despite not having super good speed, you can clearly see why he's been my favorite player to watch hit over the last two years.