Alexis Díaz is having a great season. He’s struck out 30 of the 61 batters he’s faced and held opponents to a .113 batting average. In most cases, that would make him the best pitcher in his own nuclear family. Unfortunately, he has an older brother. Last season, Edwin Díaz led all relievers in strikeout rate. This season, Alexis has the best strikeout rate among relievers. Edwin led the league in reliever WAR last season, and Alexis is currently tied for second. If Yennier Cano ever gives up a run, which does not look likely to happen anytime soon, Alexis could take over the league lead in that category as well.
The Díazes are the Sultans of Swing-and-Miss. I bet you thought I was going to go for “Brothers in Arms,” which is the reference that’s been busted out for every family of pitchers since humanity first discovered Mark Knopfler back in the 1970s. But no, Dire Straits has a wide and venerable catalog of songs appropriate for this situation. You might say that because Edwin’s return from knee surgery is So Far Away, the Mets are paying him Money for Nothing this season.
While contemplating the recent bullpen excellence of the Brothers Díaz, I started to wonder whether they were the best pair of sibling relief pitchers in MLB history, and I pitched a blog post exploring the issue. Then it hit me that there was no Stathead search function for familial relationships, and I spent the next four hours filling out a list manually until my eyes stopped focusing. Which explains the fire hose of Dire Straits references in the last paragraph — it was a bit of an odd day.
Baseball Almanac features a helpful list of all the sets of siblings in MLB history, from Alou to Zimmerman — 438 sets in all, dating back nearly 150 years. This list, unfortunately for me, does not include the positions of the brothers in question. So I went through manually, name by name, and separated pitchers from position players, wheat from chaff, sheep from goats.
I don’t regret having to do this for two reasons. First, it beats doing real work. Second, it was a profoundly educational experience. Seldom have I encountered a better apparatus for Remembering Some Guys.
This is how I came to learn that there have been two players in MLB history named Jiggs, and both had brothers who also played in the majors. There were three baseball-playing brothers named Andy High, Charlie High, and Hugh High. The last of these shouldn’t be confused with Hugh Hill, who had a brother named Bill Hill, who also played in the majors. (Former Brewers infielder Bill Hall did not.)
Dad Clarkson was a Massachusetts native and Harvard man who went on to play for the Boston Beaneaters. Two of his brothers, including Hall of Famer John Clarkson (“Dad” was not the oldest son), also played in the majors, as did two cousins. But Dad did not have a son in the major leagues, further confounding the nickname. (Weirdly, the name “Dad Clarkson” fouled the player linker because there were also old-timey ballplayers named Dad Clark and Dad Clarke.)
Claude Jonnard won three consecutive pennants and a World Series with the New York Giants in the 1920s, but even though he once led the NL in saves, he does not make the list of great sibling reliever duos because his brother, Bubber Jonnard, was a catcher.
Jeff Pfeffer spent 13 seasons in the major leagues, racking up 158 wins. He followed his brother, Big Jeff Pfeffer, into the family business of pitching. (Neither brother had “Jeffrey” or any of its derivatives anywhere in his government name.) Surely you also remember left-hander Hooks Wiltse of the 1905 Giants, and his older brother, Lewis “Snake” Wiltse.
After all that guy-remembering (and shaking loose the memory that Honus Wagner had a brother named Butts), I further restricted the list to brothers who played in the majors after 1900. Surely we can all agree that nothing that happened in the 19th century counts as actual baseball. That leaves 88 sets of major league brothers that are composed entirely of pitchers: 87 pairs, plus Pascual Pérez, Mélido Pérez, and Carlos Pérez. (Pascual made the All-Star team in 1983; Carlos holds the record for most chewing tobacco placed in a human mouth at a particular time.)
We came close to having multiple fraternal pitching triumvirates: Andy and Alan Benes have a younger brother, Adam, who topped out at Double-A. Ramón Martínez and Pedro Martínez also have a younger brother, Jesus, who got called up to the Dodgers but did not appear in a game.
Now, you can probably rattle off a long list of celebrated pitching brothers: Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean, Joe Niekro and Phil Niekro, Livan Hernandez and Orlando Hernandez. But the specific question is who the best fraternal relief pitchers are, and any list of the best sibling duos in pitching history will invariably mostly be populated by starters. So in order to qualify for this list, both brothers had to have made more relief appearances than starts in their major league careers.
This net catches a few relief pitchers who also made 100 or more starts in the majors, including Drew Pomeranz. I also included Hal Jeffcoat, who spent the first six seasons of his career playing center field for the Cubs, then converted to pitcher for his final six seasons in the league.
These criteria gave us a list of 34 pairs of sibling relief pitchers, and a few patterns quickly emerged. First, it’s obvious how much relief pitching has been emphasized not just in the past generation but in the past few years. Of the top 10 sets of brothers on my list (and I’ll get into the methodology, such as it is, in a second), half include at least one brother who’s under contract with a major league team this season.
The second pattern is a bit depressing: The most common outcome for any relief pitcher’s career is irrelevance. Of those 34 pairs, 13 comprised two brothers who failed to get more than a win away from replacement level in either direction. In only six instances did both brothers earn at least 1 WAR.
And because I was already a little loopy from putting the list together, and because this enterprise is one of trivia rather than scientific or intellectual rigor, I decided to keep things relatively simple and use career WAR as the ultimate measure of a player’s greatness. The only twist I put on it was borrowed from Bill James, who ranked the greatest families in MLB history for his New Historical Baseball Abstract.
He used his own omnibus value metric, win shares, rather than WAR, but he quickly discovered that simply counting the win shares didn’t answer the question he wanted to ask. Raw totals told him that the best baseball family of all time was Babe Ruth all on his own. So he decided that win shares from the second-most valuable player in the family would count double, win shares from the third-most valuable player would count triple, and so on.
With only two pitchers per family and relatively low WAR totals, the effect isn’t as great. Nevertheless, the career WAR of the less valuable brother counted double. (Just for fun, I tried squaring the less valuable brother’s WAR, but it screwed things up for negative WAR values and didn’t change the order up at the top very much anyway. Now that I’ve got the list, maybe I’ll go back and re-run it with WPA or something when I’m hard-up for story ideas in the offseason.) Here are the results:
The Greatest Sibling Relievers in Baseball History
*Played as an outfielder for six seasons
Yes, apparently there was once a pair of brothers named Dick and Slick Coffman who pitched in the majors. I’m sure this news delights all of you as much as it did me.
The first family on the list is one most of you probably guessed. Todd Worrell was a three-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year. Younger brother Tim pitched 14 seasons in the majors himself, including a 38-save campaign with the Giants in 2003.
Alexis Díaz, with fewer than 80 major league innings to his name, is already one of the most valuable second reliever brothers ever. If he has any kind of longevity, he and Edwin should eventually challenge the Worrells for the top spot on the list. Unless they’re caught by the Rogers twins, both of whom are entrenched in the Giants bullpen and will also move up the list by the end of this season at the latest. (I keep having to remind myself that Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers is not a lost third sibling, a Zac Hanson of the Rogers family if you will.)
The other notable pairing in the top 10 is the Fowlers, who had an age gap of 24 years between them, the largest among brothers in MLB history. Jesse made his major league debut in 1924; Art pitched in the big leagues until 1964, 40 years later.
Another pair to watch are the Burdis, who came to national prominence as the two hardest-throwing members of the Louisville Cardinals bullpen in the mid-2010s. Nick just got back to the majors last week after an injury-enforced absence of three years. Younger brother Zack, a former White Sox first-rounder, made a couple appearances for Tampa Bay in April. Surely he’ll follow the path of every Rays reliever: About 18 months of utter dominance, followed by catastrophic injury and then a trade.
The crown of best pair of bullpen brothers — if the Díazes or Rogerses do ever get there — is a bit of a narrow distinction. It means both brothers have to be good enough to pitch in the big leagues, but neither can be good enough to pitch in the rotation. But that’s the thing about statistical inquiries like this one: They don’t have to be meaningful to be interesting.