BY MIKE CAROZZA
MLB.com along with every other self-respecting baseball website has a World Series position-by-position breakdown, but not a single one is covering the WPW angle. The gear of the World Series, in its own respect is worth examining. Think about any big game you’ve played in—would you have gone out in the field with even a speck of doubt about the tools you were using to win? No chance. Look good, feel good, play good. The Giants and Royals are at the apex of the game and you can be sure that every guy in these lineups is 100% confident in the equipment he’s using.
From WPW’s perspective, though, some guys make it look better than others. Below is a totally arbitrary, blatantly subjective breakdown, position-by-position, of who’s got the edge in the (pivotal) “Swagger” category in the 2014 World Series.
Pence (profile) vs Aoki is a great way to start this breakdown because its a perfect example of a better player with far less style or grace in his play. Hunter Pence’s awkwardness is so well-documented he made a spoof video about it:
Pence is the only guy I’ve ever seen wear his pants above his knees, which is strange and also strange-looking.
I give Pence some credit for individuality and for his bulldog demeanor, but Aoki is also unique, but not in a strange-looking way like Pence. He’s got some one-of-a-kind shiny blue Asics cleats that really stand out, plus another one-of-a-kind elbow guard made by Asics as well. As well as he plays, it doesn’t take much to LOOK better than Pence on a ballfield. Ugly swing, ugly throw, ugly run. On the other hand, an Asian-style, closed leg lift, sweeping lefty swing is modern art, and Aoki’s got a pretty good one. He gets the nod here.
Lorenzo Cain (profile) has been making a name for himself during this run as an elite defender, and that is crystal clear at this point. The Giants are feeling pretty good in center field, too, though, with Blanco who makes tough plays look easy on a nightly basis. As far as outfield defense goes, this is about as good as it gets. Blanco definitely makes it look good, but Cain and his adidas gear and powder blues just look better. Is that subjective, absolutely. Powder blue for the win.
No contest. I know Ishikawa is coming into this Series feeling as good as he’s ever felt on a baseball field, but here’s all you need to know about this Swagger matchup, from a recent article about Ishikawa getting sent the new Nike Lunar Vapor Trout cleats before the NLCS:
Ishikawa showed the cleats to Bumgarner.
“I said, ‘Am I cool enough to pull these off?’ ” Ishikawa said. “And (Bumgarner) said, without hesitation, ‘No.’ “
That is hilarious for a lot of reasons. Alex Gordon’s (profile) repertoire, on the other hand, is no joke. He does everything right, and unique, with a sick set of Lousville Slugger System 7 batting gloves and a digi camo Evoshield leg guard that just completes the blowout here. Also, you simply cannot beard better than Gordon beards.
Escobar gets plenty of points for really bringing his best when it comes to footwear. We’ve seen him in converted Kobe 8s, as well as some other really clean colorways. Crawford (profile), though, is an athletic wonder and his style of play is jaw-dropping. He is as graceful a short stop as there is today, and he also has one of the best walk out songs in the game right now, Drake’s “Believe Me.” Cold-blooded.
On the diamond Crawford has the long-haired, laid-back look of a guy that is in his element, at his happiest, like a world-class surfer shredding a wave. Its easy for him.
Moose vs Panda (profile), a battle of mammalian beasts, is one of the more intriguing matchups we’ve got in the series. Sandoval has World Series MVP swagger, a type of swagger that just 58 men who’ve ever walked the Earth can claim. Moustakas on the other hand hasn’t been here before, but after 4 bombs in his first 8 playoff games and some big-time defensive plays, he’s not lacking for confidence either.
As for the look, Panda and Moose both bring it. Moose rocks a fresh pair of volted Franklin Natural II custom batting gloves, while Panda mixes up his UA exclusives day-to-day. We even saw him rocking the first-ever Batman batting gloves in a game back in August (unavailable as far as we can tell). Where Panda sets himself apart, though, is his SSK leather. Great colorway, drop-dead gorgeous glove. That, and the ice in his veins is what gives him the edge here.
Omar Infante and Joe Panik (profile) have a similar, understated style on the field that reflects their style of play. They both let their game do the talking, not a ton of rah-rah, expressiveness, or style points. Infante does have a cool feature in his batting gloves, like Derek Jeter’s Jordans, with armor embedded in the top of the hand of his Franklin CFX Pros. He’s pretty much standard issue, as is Joey Panik.
Where Panik stands out, though, is that textbook left-handed swing. When the hips fire, the top-hand releases and Panik is fully uncoiled at the finish, you might as well be looking at the logo. Panik’s swing is the prototype.
Unlike Panik, Belt’s left-handed swing is not very photogenic. Though extremely quick and powerful, its just not as pretty, though he gets points for a flat-out savage pimp job like the one seen after his 18th inning game-winner in the longest playoff game ever.
Hosmer (profile), though, is just an all-around swagger hound, a WPW follower (student of the game), and could be the freshest 1B in the league. It doesn’t hurt that his 1.314 playoff OPS is just about double his 2014 regular season mark, which is completely ludicrous. The guy just looks like he’s having a great time out there.
Hosmer loses points for a weird haircut, but not enough to change the outcome in this matchup.
Analysts have pointed behind the dish as maybe the key position that has carried these two scrappy teams so far. In Posey (profile) and Perez, you have the two best backstops in each league, both with different styles but tremendous results. Salvy (profile) racks up points for his various sets of All Star gear, which I’ve mentioned is arguably the best in the game.
Where Salvy loses points though, is in his performance. Perez, though he got a legendary walk-off knock in the wildcard game, has been lost at the plate during the postseason. A .118 playoff batting average is not swag, no matter how good you look.
Posey, underwhelming as he might be stylistically, just performs. When you’re wearing two World Series rings with a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award in the trophy case, at age 27, the rest of your outfit doesn’t matter.
As much as any position in sports, the word “presence” is used to measure starting pitchers. Both of these aces have it in spades. Bumgarner and Shields, at 6’5/235 and 6’3/215 respectively, are imposing forces on the bump. Both will gladly throw fists if not baseballs.
Intimidation is a strength for both of these front-end horses, but what really makes this matchup a landslide is blatantly irresponsible nicknaming. Somewhere along the way, someone started calling James Shields “Big Game” James, a catchy slogan, yes, but deserved? Absolutely not. Shields is 3-4 with a bloated 5.19 ERA in his playoff career, getting through 7 innings just one time in his 9 career playoff starts. Last I checked, playoffs qualify as “Big Games.”
It may not be Shields’ fault that the name has stuck, but its a glaring misnomer, especially when put up against a guy who threw 8 innings of shutout ball in the World Series at age 21.
Bumgarner is the second-coming of Randy Johnson, he could care less about who’s in the box (“not a video guy,” his words), and he drinks 6 beers at a time.
Total: Giants 5, Royals 4
In a tight one, the Giants edge out a slight Swagger advantage over the Royals. Regardless of the outcome, I’m ready to watch these two warrior ballclubs scrap. So many enjoyable players to root for, and two teams that so clearly enjoy the game.
Enjoy the Series. Tweet me.