WPW Report (Updated): MLB Catcher’s Gear 2018 (Face Masks, Chest Protectors, Shin Guards, Mitts)

What follows is a summary of our research on MLB starting catchers for the 2018 season.  In case you missed them, here are our reports on gloves, bats, and cleats.  Through observation, our research looks at the helmets and face masks, chest protectors, shin guards, and catcher’s mitts worn by MLB’s starting catchers.  We use Baseball-Reference.com’s team pages to determine starters.  This is what the 30 best catchers in baseball are wearing on the field.

On every baseball diamond in the world, catchers take a beating behind the dish.  Nobody else on the field sacrifices more for the team.  For the brave souls who dare to squat, catcher’s equipment, aka the “Tools of Ignorance,” is very literally their livelihood.

Catchers, what gear do you wear?

Fortunately for our beloved “backstops,” catchers also get more TV time than any other player on the field, so MLB catchers get the best equipment available and some of the richest endorsement deals.

Meanwhile, as the lethality of concussions looms for athletes who want a life after baseball, choosing protective equipment can’t just be about the money.  Because of these serious health concerns among catchers, the equipment used to play the position has changed in the last few years.  Specifically, the landscape for helmets and face masks has changed as MLB catchers have caught on to a small company called Force3, founded by Atlanta Braves catcher, Tyler Flowers.

Flowers’ company, Force3 Pro Gear, offers a face mask and helmet with a spring-loaded shock absorbing system that has won the confidence of the catching elite.  While Flowers did not qualify as a starter this season, Force3 helmets and face masks were still worn by ten starting catchers in 2018, including Flowers’ teammate, Kurt Suzuki.  Overall, the catcher’s position is the most competitive position on the field with regards to gear.  Lets take a look at the numbers…

What Do Starting MLB Catchers Wear?

As you can see in the infographic above, the catcher position is hotly contested.  Three different companies lead the three categories that we tracked: #1 helmets/facemasks, #2 chest protectors/shin guards, and #3 catcher’s mitts.

Helmets / Face Masks Worn by MLB Starting Catchers

Force3 | 33%

Yasmani Grandal is one of 10 starting MLB catchers that trusts Force3 to protect his head in 2018.  According to a press release from Force3, their Defender face mask “reduces the possibility of sustaining traumatic brain injuries by far exceeding the protective qualities of any other mask tested.”

Update 1/8/2019 – We asked Yaz why he switched to Force3 for head protection, and here’s what he said:

“After years of dealing with a sore jaw from foul balls, I started looking into different padding trying to identify which was better.  While looking, I came across Force3’s defender mask.  The mask spoke for itself and once I was done looking through countless videos of high velocity impacts, the decision was easy.  Safety is everything and the Defender Mask is the best at it.”

In just a few years, the Force3 masks have spread quickly among the game’s best catchers, including Salvador Perez, Francisco Cervelli, and Matt Wieters.  Word travels fast, and Force3 masks are a hot topic among MLB catchers.

Update 1/8/2019 – Force3 owner Tyler Flowers talked with WPW about why the shift to Force3 head protection has increased this year:

“…players are making some educated decisions to help themselves and their own futures both in this career and the career they will have after the game.  I’ve heard ranging thought processes from not wanting a sore jaw, to my wife and kids want me to wear it… The topic has definitely been on the rise the last few seasons with the implementation of the 7 day concussion DL…  Everybody just seems to realize that these head traumas have some real and lasting effects and our product can really help…”

WPW asked Astros’ 2018 starting catcher Max Stassi why he made the switch to the Force3 mask.  Here’s what Max had to say: “Brian McCann told me how amazing it is and how you don’t feel foul tips as much.”  He called it a “Game changer.”  Max said he “absolutely” feels the benefits that McCann had praised.  What about the shocks?  “(They) for sure work.  They do a great job,” Max said.  Max also had another interesting insight about the added weight compared to other masks.  While the natural assumption is that added weight is bad, Max had the opposite to say about the Force3 mask.  “…it’s great because if (a mask is) too light it won’t absorb the ball as well.”  Stassi enjoys the added weight of the Force3 Defender mask for its impact-absorbing qualities.  You can find the Force3 Defender mask worn by Max Stassi on Baseball Express.

Nike and All-Star | 27% each

Nike offers a titanium mask that has withstood the test of time for MLB catchers, worn consistently by catchers for many years.  The mask, and its dents, are captured beautifully above by one of our favorite photographers, @geminikeez.  In general, many MLB catchers still prefer the traditional face mask because it pops off the head on foul tips, unlike the hockey style mask (worn by catchers like Buster Posey, and Martin Maldonado).  This tends to lessen the punishment on the catcher’s head and neck, though there are still a lot of MLB catchers who wear the hockey mask.

In 2018, Nike’s titanium mask was worn by 27% of MLB starting catchers, including Wilson Ramos, Tucker Barnhart (for most of the year), and JT Realmuto among others.

Along with Force3, All-Star Sporting Goods is a catcher-focused brand that makes some of the best catcher’s gear available.  All-Star helmets and face masks are worn by 27% of MLB starting catchers.  Their System 7 MVP2500 hockey-style helmet (above) is relied on by many catchers, including Buster Posey, Martin Maldonado, and Gary Sanchez among others.

Interestingly, Tucker Barnhart also wore the All-Star MVP2500 for parts of the 2018 season, but chose to wear Nike’s titanium mask for the majority of the season.

Chest Protectors & Shin Guards Worn by MLB Starting Catchers

(Referred to as “Gear” in the chart above)

Nike | 47%

The chest and knee-caps of an MLB starting catcher are valuable real estate.  Nike, who does not offer retail catching equipment of any kind (unless you scour eBay), buys up a lot of that real estate.

With no retail product to sell in the catcher category, Nike’s market share of 47% of MLB starters is purely a marketing play.

The play is working.  We get DM’s all the time from catchers asking about Nike gear.  We wish they’d start selling it.

All-Star | 14%

All-Star Sporting Goods comes in second in the gear category, outfitting four MLB starting catchers (14%) with chest protectors and shinnies.  Their System 7 label is pretty much the MLB standard.  The four catchers who wear All-Star gear: Martin Maldonado, Jonathan Lucroy, Max Stassi, and Omar Narvaez of the White Sox.

Rawlings and Under Armour | 10% each

WPW insiders know that All-Star also private labels their gear for Under Armour.  For some contract athletes like Willson Contreras, Under Armour takes All-Star’s System 7 gear and slaps UA labels on them.

In 2018 though, it looks like Under Armour started offering their own chest protector, the Converge style worn by Matt Wieters.

Wieters still rocks the All-Star shin guards branded by Under Armour with All-Star knee savers.

Russell Martin, Salvador Perez, and Francisco Cervelli rock Rawlings gear.  Martin has some of the nicest equipment every single year, and although Yadier Molina has moved to Jordan brand, Russell Martin carries the torch for Yadi’s Rawlings set.  The CSYM is available at this link in two Cardinals colors.

Here’s Russ discussing his love for Rawlings back in 2016.

Honorable Mention | Yadier Molina’s Jordan Gear

How could we forget?  When Yadi Molina threw on the Jordan gear, catcher’s swag reached a new pinnacle.  You won’t find these anywhere, yet.

What Glove Brands do MLB Catchers Wear?

Rawlings | 57%

Rawlings is the most worn catcher’s mitt by MLB starting catchers in 2018, taking 57% of the league.

Kurt Suzuki  added Pro Mesh to the back of his mitt (pictured above) to make his hands a little quicker due to the weight savings.  It also gives the mitt a great look.  The sew-on wrist strap is a popular protective item similar to the All-Star YG2.

Here’s a sampling of the 17 starting catchers who wear Rawlings:

All-Star | 20%

The following excerpt taken from our 2018 MLB Glove report:

Whereas most positions follow the same general brand trends, we’ve noticed a huge difference in the glove brand choice of catchers.  That difference, quite simply, is All-Star Sporting Goods.  We’ve already mentioned that they are the catching specialist, and here’s the numbers (above) to prove it.

All-Star is worn by 20% of MLB starting catchers (and many more reserves).  Above, Orioles reserve catcher Andrew Susac talks about All-Star.  All-Star’s most popular catchers model is the CM3000, available at this link.

Wilson and Mizuno | 10% each

Both Wilson and Mizuno supply gamers for three MLB starting catchers.  For Wilson, its Mitch Garver of the Twins, Kevin Plawecki of the Mets, and Wilson Ramos (above), who uses Wilson’s Superskin material to save weight, just as Kurt Suzuki does with his Rawlings Pro Mesh.

For Mizuno, Willson Contreras (gamer above), Yan Gomes, and Jeff Mathis wear their catcher’s mitts.

MLB starter’s usage shows that the catcher’s gear industry has great competition and continues to innovate.  What do you think about these results?  Any surprises?  Sound off in the comments below.

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