Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Neikro and Perry Brothers

Let us take a little bit of a pause between the end of the off season and the beginning of Spring Training baseball games and look at two amazing brother acts of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. No brother acts won more games pitching than the Neikro brothers, Phil and Joe. But right behind them are the Perry brothers, Jim and Gaylord. Two are in the Hall of Fame, two were known "cheaters" and all together, these four men combined to win 1,068 games, pitch 17,534 innings, 769 complete games and 159 shutouts. Remarkable. The two sets of brothers total statistics are amazingly close considering how long they pitched. Just for the fun of it, let's break it all down and compare the Perry brothers to the Neikro brothers.

First, a little background. The Neikro brothers were from Ohio. Phil was born in 1939 and Joe in 1944. Phil was signed as a free agent by the Braves in 1958 and made his debut in the majors in 1964. The Braves were still in Milwaukee. Phil pitched 24 seasons and retired after the 1987 season. Joe was drafted by the Cubs in 1966 and pitched 22 seasons, retiring after the 1988 season.

The Perry brothers were both born and raised in Williamston, North Carolina. Jim was born in 1935 and Gaylord in 1938. Jim was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1956 and made his debut in 1959. His seventeen year career ended after the 1975 season. Gaylord was signed by the Giants in 1958 and made his major league debut in 1962. He pitched 22 years and retired after the 1983 season. So the Perrys were slightly older and started their careers slightly earlier. But you can safely state that all four are from the same baseball generation and faced similar competition for their careers.

The Neikro brothers, of course, will forever be the answer to the trivia question as to which set of brothers have the most combined wins pitching in Major League Baseball. They finished with 539 combined wins or just ten more than the Perry brothers. But as we should all know by now, a pitcher's won-loss record is not entirely of a pitcher's own doing. A lot depends on the team, the park, his fielders and other factors. We now have other tools that can measure careers relative to those other factors. There is WAR (wins above replacement), ERA+ and other things we can look at. Again, the striking thing about these two sets of brothers is how similar their statistics are. Let's list a few of them.

  • Jim Perry: 215-174, 3.45 ERA, 109 complete games, 32 shutouts, 10 saves, 1.255 WHIP, 8.6 hits per nine innings, 2.7 BB/9, 4.3 K/9, 1.58 K/BB ratio, 106 ERA+, 33.3 bWAR.
  • Gaylord Perry: 314-265, 3.11 ERA, 303 complete games, 53 shutouts, 11 saves, 1.181 WHIP, 8.3 hits per nine, 2.3 BB/9, 5.9 K/9, 2.56 K/BB ratio, 117 ERA+, 96.3 bWAR.
  • Joe Neikro: 221-204, 3.59 ERA, 103 complete games, 29 shutouts, 16 saves, 1.319 WHIP, 8.7 hits per nine innings, 3.2 BB/9, 4.4 K/9, 1.38 K/BB ratio, 98 ERA+, 30.2 bWAR
  • Phil Neikro: 318-274, 3.35 ERA, 245 complete games, 45 shutouts, 29 saves, 1.268 WHIP, 8.4 hits per nine innings, 3.0 BB/9, 5.6 K/9, 1.85 K/BB ratio, 115 ERA+, 96.8 bWAR

How remarkably close are those numbers! The Perrys combined for 129.6 bWAR, the Neikros, 127 bWAR. Look at how close their hits per nine rates were! And one stat that wasn't mentioned, this quartet's homers per nine innings are identical. Gaylord (0.7), Jim (0.8), Phil (0,8), Joe (0.7). 

It's a shame to give one set of brothers the edge, but history has already done that by listing the Neikros as the number one winning duo. So, we have to even the score a little bit. The Perrys had 2.6 more combined bWAR compiled in 363 less innings pitched. With Joe's 98 ERA+ total, you have to give the Perrys the edge there too. Between them Gaylord (2) and Jim (1) won three Cy Young Awards. The Neikros didn't win any. Both Joe and Phil each had one second place finish. Both Phil Neikro and Gaylord Perry were selected to five All Star squads. Jim Perry was elected to three, but Joe Neikro never made the All Star team. Phil was the only one of the four to win a Gold Glove and he won five of those.

There is not much to gain by looking at their post season records. The Perry brothers had limited appearances in the post season and both had an ERA over six in their small sample sizes. Phil Neikro started two games in the post season, pitched well, but never won a post season game. Joe Neikro pitched twenty innings in the post season and never gave up a run. But he didn't get any wins either. 

What about batting? Not much to see there. The Neikro brothers had a combined bWAR of -5.8 as batters and the Perry brothers, a combined -4.3 bWAR. The Perry brothers did hit eleven combined homers though whereas the Neikro brothers only hit one each. Put it all together and you have a slight edge to the Perry brothers as the better pair, but it isn't by very much.

Of course, both Gaylord Perry and Joe Neikro were suspended for doctoring baseballs. But that didn't keep Gaylord out of the Hall of Fame. Let's just wrap this up by stating matter-of-factly that we will probably never see two sets of brothers pitch in the same era like that again with that kind of longevity and that kind of success. The two sets of brothers are a remarkable story taken together. And it's a story unique to baseball history.

Some Perry/Neikro trivia:

  • Which is the only one of the four never to pitch for the Yankees? Jim Perry.
  • Which is the only one of the four never to pitch for the Braves? Jim Perry.
  • Which is the only one of the four never to pitch for the Indians? Joe Neikro.
  • Which set of brothers had more twenty-win seasons? The Perrys, six to five.
  • Which is the only one to lose twenty games in a season? Phil Neikro. He did it twice. Gaylord Perry once lost 19 games.
  • Which of the four never had a 40-start season? Joe Neikro. Phil had forty or more three times, Gaylord also did it three times and Jim did it once.
  • Which is the only one of the four to win an ERA title? Phil Neikro in 1967.
  • Which is the only one of the four to lead the league in strikeouts? Phil Neikro in 1977.
  • The quartet won 196 total games as pitchers over the age of 39. Phil won 121 of those. Jim Perry was the only one of the quartet not to pitch past the age of 39.

1 comment:

Thomas Slocum said...

And of those three who did pitch for the Pinstripers, all were 40 years old or better and Joe Niekro was the only one with a losing record (though just barely at 14-15). And Phil, after 16-8 and 16-12 seasons with the Yanks in '84 and '85 (in his age 45 and 46 seaons), still had enough left in the tank to post another 18 major league victories. Jamie Moyer notwithstanding, that's just one of the many things one or more members of this quartet did that we won't see again in our lifetime (or probably that of our grandchildren and beyond).