After the Braves acquired Justin Upton, uniting him and brother B.J. Upton on the same team, our very own Jeff Sullivan got curious about brothers playing together, and presented some salient information on the brother effect. Or more to the point, the lack thereof. I became curious about it much after that (I’m slow), and while Jeff already did the pertinent research, nobody has ever accused me of doing pertinent research, so I thought today we could look at the best seasons put together by brothers on the same team.
There have been 217 seasons in which two brothers have played on the same team, and two seasons in which three brothers played on the same team. Of those 219 seasons, 35 happened before 1900, so automatically I’m cutting those. I generally cut seasons before 1947 when I’m looking things up as well, but given that we have such a small sample to begin with, we’re going to count them here today.
We are however going to slice and dice by the quality of those seasons. One thing that I found over and over in looking up these seasons is that it was quite common for one or both of the brothers to either be at the very start or very end of his career, and as such he didn’t play well, or play a full season. In some cases, one of the brothers only tallied a handful of plate appearances or innings pitched. Sometimes, one brother will completely make up for said lack of contribution from the other brother. Take for instance, the Martinez brothers in 1999. While Pedro was busy posting one of the two best modern seasons ever by a pitcher, Ramon spent most of the year rehabilitating from a torn rotator cuff. He didn’t get into a game until August, and only ended up making four starts totaling 20.2 innings pitched. So while Pedro pumped up their total with 12.1 WAR, Ramon only chipped in 0.4. Their 12.5 combined total is more than enough to crown them as the best brother combination of all-time, but that would be a little misleading, since Ramon hardly did anything.
So, we’re going to count only the seasons in which each brother chipped in with at least 1 WAR. This cuts our sample faster than Homer bankrupted Powell Motors. Now, we’re left with just 35 such seasons, all of which are the standard two-brother types (sorry, Alou and Cruz brothers). But even here, with this parameter, we still have pairings where one brother is carrying the other. The next highest total on our list is those same Martinez brothers in 2000, when Pedro baffled hitters to the tune of 10.1 WAR, and Ramon managed to eke out 1.5 WAR in 127.2 innings. Again, not in the spirit of what we’re trying to compare here, since we expect both Upton brothers to make substantial contributions. So, let’s take a look at the five best brother combinations since 1900 where both brothers were significant contributors.
5. Gaylord Perry and Jim Perry, 1974 Indians, 9.9 WAR: As I alluded to earlier, this was one of the last hurrah’s for Jim, but he turned in one last above-average season. In the previous three seasons, Jim had been worth 4.4 WAR combined, and in his final season one year later in 1975, he posted -0.4 WAR. But in ’74 he turned in a 4.0 WAR campaign. It may not sound as impressive when you consider that he actually threw 252 innings that season, but four wins is four wins at the end of the day. The 93 FIP- wasn’t bad either. Gaylord was still in what would be a long prime. From 1966 through 1978, he posted at least 5.4 WAR in each season, and though his 5.9 WAR was on the low end of that spectrum, it was still more than solid. It’s not a 5.9 WAR season the way one would be today, since he tossed 322.1 IP, but his 88 FIP- meant that he was still comfortably better than league average. Unfortunately, they were Cleveland’s only two good pitchers, and the Indians were a below-.500 team.
4. Mort Cooper and Walker Cooper, 1943 Cardinals, 10.4 WAR: It would be fair to label this as a war-boosted total, and there is evidence to that fact here. Mort had his three best seasons during war-time, when many players were overseas fighting and the league run scoring totals dropped off significantly. Walker had two of his better seasons during war-time as well, but both players saw regular playing time in non-war-time years, so it is fair to say that they weren’t total stiffs. What’s cool about these brothers is that they were battery mates, with Mort throwing to Walker. This season was the second of third straight World Series appearances for the brother-led Cardinals squad, and the only one of the three in which they didn’t take home the whole enchilada.
3. Rick Ferrell and Wes Ferrell, 1936 Red Sox, 10.4 WAR: The Red Sox of the mid-to-late 20’s and early ‘30’s were notoriously awful, but they started to pull out of their funk in 1934, thanks to the acquisitions of the Ferrell brothers in separate trades with the Browns and Indians (and also the purchase of Billy Werber from the Yankees). Like the Cooper’s, the Ferrell’s were also battery mates, with Wes, the pitcher, throwing to Rick, the catcher. They really hit their stride in ’36, when they each posted the highest WAR totals of their careers in the very same season. The Sox still weren’t all that good, as they went just 74-80 and finished sixth of eight in the American League, but at least they were worth the price of admission, a sharp contrast to the times before the Ferrell’s showed up, when at one point — 1932 — they posted a .279 winning percentage.
2. Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean, 1935 Cardinals, 11.4 WAR: The Dean’s would also tie for fifth place, at 9.9 WAR in 1934. If you know your baseball history, you know that 1934 was the year when the famous “Gashouse Gang” team — fronted by the Dean brothers — won it all over the Tigers. But while the Dean boys were obviously good in ’34 — hence the tying for fifth place on this list here — they were that much better in ’35. Much of the difference came from Paul — or “Daffy” as he was known in the press — as 1935 was his best season, both in terms of rate and bulk stats. Unfortunately, it was also the last full season he played. After piling up 503 innings pitched in ’34 and ’35 — which were his first two in the majors — he only tallied 284.1 in the next seven seasons before his career ended at the tender age of 30. Dizzy’s career actually wasn’t much longer in terms of years, but from ’32-’37 he posted 1728.1 innings pitched, and never posted a FIP- worse than 83. Still, those who consider Sandy Koufax to be the patron saint of short-career Hall of Famers would be better to point their focus at Dizzy, as his 8,171 total batters faced paled in comparison to Koufax’s 9,497. Like his brother, Dizzy wasn’t much good to anyone on the field after 1937, though he did go on to have a very successful broadcasting career.
1. Lloyd Waner and Paul Waner, 1927-1929 Pirates, 11.3, 11.1, 11.0 WAR: I’m cheating in a couple of little ways here. Technically, the Waner boys could occupy three spots on this list — second, third and fourth — but I’ve a) grouped those years together and b) bumped them into first, even though their 1927 season comes in 0.1 WAR behind the Dean’s ’35 campaign. We’re trying to capture the spirit of the thing, and I think that despite the Dean’s having one season with 0.1 more WAR, we have to admit that the Waner’s have been about as good as it gets for position player brothers, and brothers in general. For 14 years, the Waner boys plied their trade for the Pirates — with 10 of those seasons being the 35 on our pared down list — and they even managed to stay connected on the 1941 Braves and 1944 Dodgers to boot, giving them more than twice as many years together as the Dean’s, and years of much higher quality overall. They are also just one of just four groups of brothers in the Hall of Fame — Rube and Bill Foster, Larry and Lee MacPhail and George and Harry Wright are the other three. Lloyd’s honor as a Hall of Famer is sketchy at best — he was put in by the Veterans Committee, and only compiled 28.1 WAR during his career. He was just a league-average hitter, and while our defensive stats paint him as above average, there’s very little in his statistical profile to indicate why he was so deserving of Hall of Fame status outside of his bloodlines. Paul on the other hand, was every bit the legit Hall of Famer, as he began his career with a 5.8 WAR season in 1926, and then posted 11 more consecutive seasons after that with at least 4.4 WAR. But while “Little Poison” (Lloyd) wasn’t quite as good as “Big Poison” (Paul), together the two outfielders were a formidable team, and their combined 98.6 WAR as teammates will be hard for the Upton’s or any other pair of brothers to top (second place, in case you’re curious, is Hank and Tommie Aaron at 54.6 WAR in their seven years together, though since Tommie accounted for -.8 of it, it is quite accurate to say that that was all Hank).
So, there you have it. The bar is set pretty high, even with all the crazy parameters I put in place. If you believe the ZiPS projections, both Upton brothers would have to significantly outperform expectations to crack this top five. But both brothers have reached this level before, independent of each other. In 2011, Justin posted 6.4 WAR, and B.J. posted 5.0 WAR in 2008. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect them to reach those heights again this year, but it’s going to be fun to see if they can, and take their place among the best brother combinations where both brothers were significant contributors top-five list.
(Also, since you’re likely to ask, Cal Ripken and Billy Ripken‘s best season together — 1990 — would have been an honorable mention at 9.7 WAR.)