2018 WPW research is rolling in, and we’ll start this year’s reports off with a breakdown of cleat usage among MLB’s starters. This report focuses entirely on the starting position players (important to note that this excludes pitchers) noted on Baseball-Reference.com’s 2018 team pages, plus some additional starting players that played more than one position. We focus on starters because they play the most, and the efficiency of the research is greatly improved by focusing on the most consistently active players. 2018 was an interesting year for cleats, with one brand jumping two others to take hold of 2nd place in market share.
Above is one of our favorites from 2018, worn by Yuli Gurriel, the Trout 5 Players Weekend cleats. Nike continues to supply the lion’s share of MLB starters with cleats, but the rest of the field may surprise you.
Which Brand of Cleats do You Wear?
If you’re curious what I, the WPW guy wears, its the Mizuno Heist IQ Low, a severely underrated cleat available for $30 on Baseball Express. Now that we know what the schmoes wear, lets take a look at what the pros wear. Looking back at 2017 data will help us figure out what’s changed year to year.
What Cleats do Pros Wear?
Prior Year (2017) MLB Cleat Usage by Brand
In 2017, Nike continued its long-time reign as baseball’s most popular cleat, worn by 38% of MLB starters. New Balance, who has built a reputation for comfort that’s converted many amateur players and pros alike, followed Nike with 21% of MLB starters. Under Armour followed New Balance closely at 20% usage. In 4th place at 14%, Adidas had a huge year of growth in 2017. Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa helped put them on the map, while Aaron Judge created a lot of noise in the Adidas Boost Icon.
Adidas carried the momentum into 2018. Take a look at the chart below:
2018 MLB Cleat Usage
While Under Armour and New Balance dipped in 2018, losing six and three points of market share, respectively, Adidas continued to surge. Adidas gained 7% market share, blowing past Under Armour and supplanting New Balance as the second most worn cleat among MLB starters. Nike reigns.
1. Nike | 41% (+3%)
Nolan Arenado’s Alpha Huarache Elite 2
While open-minded players are willing to experiment, loyalty to the Almighty Swoosh is so strong that many players refuse to wear anything else. Its not just blind loyalty. The most recent installment of the Alpha Huarache line (above, worn by Nolan Arenado) stole the show in the MLB playoffs… for us at least.
Nike achieves 41% market ownership because they are the only company that has 4 cleat lines with strong MLB usage:
Air Coop / Clipper – David Wright’s Final Cleat
Alpha Huarache – Alex Bregman’s Playoff Cleats
Lunar Vapor Ultrafly – George Springer’s Playoff Cleats
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Trout – Mike freakin’ Trout
No other company has such a formidable lineup of cleats to choose from, and that’s why Nike is still on top.
2. Adidas | 21% (+7%)
With 21% of the league’s starters, many of them young, Adidas will be well-represented on MLB diamonds for the foreseeable future.
Young, style-minded players like Kike Hernández have flocked to Adidas while the brand has launched an all-out blitz on the MLB in the last two seasons. Their on-field appeal to MLBers has improved with great-looking cleats like the Afterburner V (above on Kike). Adidas’ non-cleated options, too, continue to attract the new MLB order.
Byron Buxton was one of many to rock the Dame 4 in a practice setting, one of the many non-baseball Adidas products that has drawn favor from MLB players.
Aaron Judge’s Icon 4 Bounce
Though Aaron Judge started his Adidas career in the Boost Icon, he wore a new, yet similar offering from Adidas in 2018, the Icon Bounce. We are told that the Icon Bounce offers more stability than the Boost version, though we’d love to hear from players out there who have worn them in the comments.
3. New Balance | 18% (-3%)
Ronald Acuña’s 4040v4
Francisco Lindor’s COMPv1
The COMPv1 cleats from New Balance offer glass fiber reinforced TPU (molded) cleats that “play like metal and feel like molded.” This “hybrid” composition strives to add comfort without sacrificing traction.
Along with Lindor’s consistent use of the COMPv1, Jean Segura, Mitch Moreland, Acuña, and even Jose Altuve mix the hybrid plate into their rotation. New Balance has said the COMPv1 cleats were built with artificial turf in mind, making them great for high school and college schedules.
Josh Reddick’s 3000v4 Spiderman Theme for Players’ Weekend
No cleat has a better dugout reputation than New Balance’s offerings.
4. Under Armour | 14% (-6%)
Under Armour has taken a few hits on the diamond lately, seemingly losing the MLB uniform deal that was announced in 2016, and losing some young star power along with it. It wasn’t all bad for UA in 2018, though.
Christian Yelich won the MVP of the National League in an older version of the Under Armour Yard. The “Yard” name has taken many forms, and a lot of them are buyable on eBay for $40 or less. Dee Gordon loves the latest version of the Yard, calling it the most comfortable cleat he’s ever worn.
The cleats are an American icon. They belong in the Smithsonian. They should be shot into space as a demonstration of Earth’s excellence for future unknown life forms.
5. Jordan | 3%
Jordan brand has grown its presence modestly in the post-Jeter MLB. Jumpman regularly offers Jordan cleats to amateur baseball (& football) players now, too.
Their most notable player of 2018 was the AL MVP Mookie Betts, who came up as an Under Armour guy but left for swaggier pastures. Betts wore the Jordan 9 (available on eBay) in grey and red colorways, among others.
Safe to say Christian Yelich did not receive 1 of 1 on- and off-field Jordan 9s to celebrate his MVP.
Manny Machado – Jordan 4, 12 and 9
These are turfs but Machado has worn 12 cleats, too.
Metal vs. Molded vs. Hybrid
It seems like molded and hybrid cleats are growing in the MLB, just based on the eye test. The durability concerns of a 162+ game season has players looking for any possible way to stay healthy. More forgiving cleats like Machado’s Jordan 4 with plastic bottoms are supposed to feel better on the lower body, while hybrid cleats like Springer’s Vapor Ultrafly and Lindor’s COMPv1 try to offer the best of both worlds.
What do the MLB numbers say from 2017?
Prior Year (2017) MLB Cleats Types
Compared to 2018:
It looks like the eye-test worked, because both molded usage and hybrid usage rose among MLB starters in 2018. Metal-only wearers make up 70% of MLB starters (-7%), while we observed that 20% (+3%) mix in molded cleats for lower body relief. There’s a good chance that the number of molded users is even higher, considering the high likelihood that we missed some one-off instances where molded cleats were used to give the feet a day off.
Paul Goldschmidt‘s Molded Nike Air Coop
Juan Soto’s Hybrid Under Armour Harper 3
Ten percent (+4%) of MLB starters wore hybrid or composite cleats like Juan Soto’s Harper 3. For the first time, New Balance (COMPv1), Nike (Ultrafly), and UA (Harper 3) all offer some form of hybrid. As companies continue to innovate, the number of hybrid cleat users in the MLB is likely to increase.
Honorable Mention: Asics
Asics made its way onto the MLB scene thanks to Shohei Ohtani’s remarkable two-way rookie season.
Also appearing on MLB starters’ feet, Mizuno and 3n2, though Mizuno has tumbled lately in usage and 3n2 is worn by just one player, Ryan Braun. Thanks to @harrygenth on IG for reminding us that we hadn’t mentioned them. Thoughts on this info? Please comment below. More MLB reports to come this week…