Fathers and Sons in a Bar Fight

I must’ve looked at 50 covers for this book online. None of them had pictures of Felipe and Moises.

[Look, this might possibly amuse you somewhat, but if you’ve got anything better to do with your next 10 minutes, just move on. But if you’re tired of the Hot Stove League, this is…. something else.]

Today’s analysis starts where so many of my analytical questions start: in my neighborhood bar.  We were watching 13-year-old Charlie Woods in a golf tournament with some old balding guy as his caddy and we started thinking about great father-son athletes.  All the usual names came up.  But of course the vast majority were situations where the father and the son played the same sport, for reasons that are explained by both nature and nurture.  Grant and Calvin Hill are the great counterexample here, but if Pat Sr had had a little better career, the Mahomes’ would probably be in the mix as well.

But I then asked the question: what if you thought of pitching and batting as fundamentally different sporting profiles?  Who is the best pitching-batting father-son duo of all time, and who is the best batting-pitching father-son duo?  Now that started a bar conversation.  And while we came up with a number of the pairs in the list I’m about to give you. It’s an interesting data exercise as well.  (At least to someone who finds data exercises intrinsically interesting.) And while one of us (not me) came up with number 1 on the list, there were quite a few that nobody came up with. While I’m explaining what I’m doing, give the question a little thought yourself. 

So where to start?  Well, the very first place (thanks, Google) is Baseball Almanac’s list of all the father-son pairs in MLB history.  267 pairs. Without that, this would have been impossible.  With it, it was pretty simple. For each father-son pair, you then get four numbers: Father’s Pitching WAR, Father’s Batting WAR, Son’s Pitching WAR, Son’s Batting WAR.  These are all available in two pretty easy files to use at Baseball Reference (here and here) after a little manipulation to sum across guy’s careers.

But to get the best pair, you can’t just add the relevant WAR components.  If you do, you’ll find that the best dad-pitching, son-batting duo is Roger Clemens (138) + Kody Clemens (-.38), with the Bonds’ (163/0) being tops in the other direction.

So the right way to do this is using geometric averages, not sums.  This is what Bill James used to create his Power-Speed number, which was sqrt(HR x Steals).  The farther apart the two numbers, the closer the rating is to the bottom number.  And if the two ratings are equal, they geometric rating matches it as well. (If the bottom rating is below zero, I just set it to zero.)

So here are the top 20:

DadBat WARPitch WarSonBat WARPitch WarGMean
Tom Gordon-0.135.0Dee Strange-Gordon12.7-0.121.1
Vern Law6.326.0Vance Law10.60.116.6
Chris Speier30.60.0Justin Speier0.07.715.3
Dave LaRoche0.714.4Adam LaRoche14.20.014.3
George Sisler54.82.3Dave Sisler0.03.012.9
Tony Armas15.80.0Tony Armas, Jr.-1.58.311.5
Diego Segui0.612.0David Segui10.40.011.2
Jeff Shaw-0.213.9Travis Shaw8.30.010.8
Dixie Walker0.42.5Dixie Walker44.90.010.6
Bob Oliver4.30.0Darren Oliver1.021.29.5
Ivan Rodriguez68.70.0Dereck Rodriguez-
Mel Stottlemyre2.440.7Todd Stottlemyre1.921.08.8
Jimmy Cooney8.30.0Johnny Cooney8.59.28.7
Tom Gordon-0.135.0Nick Gordon2.0-0.38.4
Dizzy Trout4.645.2Steve Trout0.113.27.8
Jim Bagby1.229.7Jim Bagby, Jr.
Gary Roenicke15.40.0Josh Roenicke-
Dixie Walker0.42.5Harry Walker12.40.05.6
Ron Davis-0.14.9Ike Davis5.70.15.3
George Sisler54.82.3Dick Sisler7.20.04.1

There are several interesting things in this list:

  • There are no Bonds, no Alous, no Griffeys, no Boones.  There are only two Hall of Famers: George Sisler, and he is paired with both of his children Dave and Dick; and Pudge Rodriguez, whose son Dereck converted to pitcher, earned 1.3 WAR and now appears to be about done.
  • Dee Strange-Gordon is still active, of course, so barring a number of highly negative years, their lead will widen.  Nick Gordon could rise on this list quite rapidly if he stays a 2-ish WAR player.  Indeed, he could easily pass his big brother.
  • The forgettable Dixie Walker, Sr. is the bookend to Sisler – he had two accomplished batting sons combined with his own undistinguished pitching career to make this list.
  • Mel, Sr. and Todd Stottlemyre are on this only because Mel could hit.  Same with the Trouts. Pitchers with positive career batting WARs are rare. There are a few more examples farther down the complete list, including Clyde and Jaret Wright.

Anyway, the current answer is Flash and Dee Gordon.  I wanted Adam LaRoche to finish higher, but 4th is pretty respectable, and the LaRoche’s are the most balanced pair on the list, with almost identical careers of 14+ WAR.

In my bar discussion, I thought Ron and Ike Davis would rank more highly.  Apparently, I overrated both of them. They were pretty balanced.

From bar discussion to computer crunching to blog post.  That’s how I roll.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

35 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons in a Bar Fight”

  1. Great post! This would require a lot more manual labor, but are there any other names we could add if we added additional leagues — players who excelled in the Negro Leagues, or NPB, or the Cuban league, etc.?

    Like Leon Lee, father of Derrek; or Sam Hairston, father of Jerry Sr. (and grandfather of Jerry Jr.)… both of those families are hitter-only, unfortunately, but I’m just wondering who else might be out there!

  2. Well, there’s Josh Gibson’s son Kirk….

    And of course my favorite example on the whole list is Turk Farrell as the father of Richard Dotson, something he didn’t know until DNA testing after he’s already retired. It’s the best case I know of for nature over nurture in baseball. https://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/high-school/ohio-high-school/2020/12/30/fathers-identity-gives-richard-dotson-some-major-league-answers/3914527001/

    But yeah, it’s a lot of work not just to track down the other players, but to get performance stats that put them on a comparable WAR basis. Even if you think the leagues are of completely equal quality, you have to adjust for the much shorter seasons.

  3. bravesword got JC’ed, and this was too good to not bring him over:

    @30 — It’s a confluence of several factors.

    1) There are fewer avenues for teams to acquire talent than ever before. This is partially due to ownership deliberately constricting them — reducing the number of draft rounds, hard capping amateur spending both domestically and internationally, contracting the minor leagues… all of these means there’s less chance of finding someone who could be a guy. With fewer opportunities to acquire players, it becomes much more difficult for a draft-and-develop teambuilding strategy to work. Even the Braves, who are as close to a platonic ideal of this type of philosophy as you get in the modern game, have literally half their lineup, between 20 and 40 percent of their rotation (depending on how much credit you give them for Fried), and most of their bullpen being imports from outside the organization.

    Additionally, if a team does find a good young player, that team is now much more likely to hang onto him like grim death. Prospect-hugging is endemic in modern front offices, partially because prospects are a good excuse as to why you’re not spending any money (a lot of fans buy into this), partially because the modern efficiency-oriented front office has identified young players as the best ROI, and partially because even teams willing to trade prospects for short-term help have realized that they don’t actually need to trade their blue-chippers for the guy they want. The Red Sox put Mookie Betts, one of the most transcendent players in the modern game, on the market and got one high-end prospect for him. (And not even a generational prospect or anything, just your garden-variety top 50 prospect.) The days of using one enticing major league asset to jump-start your entire team are behind us, I suspect (as I think the Nationals are about to find out to their sorrow).

    So if you’re a team in a hole, you can’t draft your way out, you can’t scout your way out, and you can’t turn your best assets into a bonanza of young players and try and build your way out that way either. That leaves free agency. And if you’re going to try to buy your way to excellence, that means playing at the top of the market. Signing a number four starter, a mediocre outfielder, and two relievers isn’t going to turn your 72-win team into a contender. You’ll note that the Rangers, the Tigers, the Padres, the Mets, and the Phillies all tried to do the “build a homegrown core, then supplement with free agency” plan, and it failed miserably (ah, for the days when the Braves’ rivals thought Scott Kingery and Matt Harvey were core pieces), so they had to go all-in on more free agency signings to get better fast or concede that it’s a lost cause and they were going to have to restart the rebuild again. So far the Mets and Phils have managed to turn it over, the Padres have had to empty out their once-deep farm system in order to patch over holes, the Tigers seem to be spiraling back into irrelevance, and the Rangers… well, we’ll see.

    2) The length of these contracts is driven pretty much entirely by the fact that the luxury cap isn’t keeping pace with revenues. The players want their slice, but in order to get it the teams either have to commit to a big tax hit or sign these guys until they’re 40. So far, teams seem to see the latter as the lesser evil for them. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think any of the teams who have signed an 11-year contract actually expects the player to still be worth his price tag a decade from now. It seems more likely that the teams view these contracts as more like six- or seven-year deals with a lot of deferred money, just structured in a way that gives them a more favorable luxury tax bill. And hey, if Xander Bogaerts beats the odds and is still an effective player at 39 or whatever, you’ve still got him under contract. Stranger things have happened.)

    3) On top of that, the players’ overall share of revenue has actually shrunk, because several teams are just not spending money. Not “not spending $200+ million,” but “not spending $100 million.” The Mets will probably spend more on luxury tax this season than at least three entire organizations spend on their entire major league rosters — and while that says something about the Mets, it says more about those cheapskate organizations. If you’re a player and you get to free agency in a good spot, you’re heavily incentivized to make sure you get the bag, because it’s likely to be your only shot.

    People forget that teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay made a fetish of “efficiency” because they were actually working under extremely restrictive budgets. If they wanted to compete, they had to squeeze every penny until it squeaked. The modern front office, however, sees efficiency as an end unto itself. Teams like Boston and Chicago, who have no excuse, would rather lose efficiently than win but have to pay a few extra bucks for it. It is completely unsurprising that executives from that kind of culture would look at a team actually spending money to win and collapse onto the nearest fainting couch. (Boston’s GM was reportedly flabbergasted that his offer to Bogaerts of less than half of what Francisco Lindor got several years ago wasn’t enough to close the deal.) For years, these guys controlled how free agents were valued, and there were enough of them to suppress the markets for free agents — even if they weren’t actively colluding, the fact that they all mostly thought the same way caused them to act in similar ways. Now, though, the ground has changed. You’ve got the teams mostly self-dividing between teams that are actively trying to win, and teams that just want to watch the money flow in. The ambitious teams aren’t letting the specter of inefficiency stop them from acquiring the guys they want.

    It seems pretty clear to me that ownership’s intention was that the luxury tax would serve as an effective cap, more or less freezing player salaries and allowing them to pocket the difference when revenues increased. This only works, though, if everyone agrees to play by the rules. If a few owners decide that they want a ring more than they want the highest possible profits, the luxury penalties are largely a paper tiger, and we’re seeing what happens when teams start ignoring them.

    As for regrets? Well, this is just my opinion, but I tend to think that the “well, the team looks good now, but we’ll see how it looks in ten years” criticism to be a loser’s mentality. We could all be dead in ten years. A beer could be $35 in ten years. The end of the Turner/Bogaerts contracts are two full CBA negotiations away; who knows what the financial state of baseball (or America, or the world) looks like then. In the meantime, fans of those teams have a competitive roster to watch. That’s what a front office’s job should be, even if in reality it frequently isn’t.

  4. @3 is exactly right, and all of you who wanted a Hot Stove post can use that post to substitute for my meandering reverie.

  5. Welp…

    “Atlanta’s most recent offer to Swanson was a six-year deal in the $16-17MM range annually, per Bowman, which aligns with last month’s reports that the Braves had offered Swanson a deal in the vicinity of $100MM.”

  6. @5 I don’t know if I believe that. Why would you lock up Austin Riley when you don’t even have to for $22M and then turn around a give a FA who’s just as if not more valuable 3/4 of that? I call BS.

  7. @7 Rob, what if they offered the same extension to Dansby first, he turned it down, and Riley accepted the same terms? Maybe that was when it was a sure thing that Dansby was not returning.

  8. It’s kind of the same strategy with Freddie: they’ve made an offer and they don’t really intend to budge. AA’s free agent strategy doesn’t seem to be a give-and-take negotiation process. It’s more of a “take my offer or there’s not much to talk about.”

  9. @8 I guess it’s possible, but why significantly lower the offer right after he has a career year?

  10. I’m not quite sure I believe any of the Dansby rejected-offer rumors, but who knows. Why would the truth leak? It doesn’t benefit either side. That said, I think the $16-$17M AAV is about right honestly. He’s less than half the player that Correa and Bogaerts have been for six or seven years. You gonna give him 8 more years based on one huge outlier year? You can make a case either way, but the management-side case isn’t unreasonable at all. Best of luck to the team that gives him $25M+ per year.

  11. Year WAR
    2016 1.1
    2017 -0.1
    2018 2.2
    2019 1.1
    2020 2.8
    2021 1.9
    2022 5.7

    I’m sorry but that doesn’t scream $20M player to me. We won the WS with his 1.9 WAR year. Is it that crazy that Grissom/Arcia/random-scrub couldn’t come close to matching that? 2023 Steamer has Grissom between 2.5 and 3.0 WAR. None of this is science or anything, but the more I look at it the more I realize this SS decision isn’t make or break … not even close.

  12. With respect to @12… FWIW, you’re mixing fWAR and rWAR. Steamer thinks Grissom will be worth 2.5 fWAR next year, but Fangraphs also thinks that Swanson’s WAR totals look like this:

    Year WAR
    2016 1.0
    2017 -0.2
    2018 1.4
    2019 2.0
    2020 2.3* (in about 40% of a season)
    2021 3.4
    2022 6.4

    About 11% higher, in total.

  13. Thanks for correcting me. What do Turner, Bogaerts, Correa look like with fWAR over the same time period. Is it fair to say that Dansby is roughly half as valuable? I’m not saying team-Swanson doesn’t have a valid case, but the other side’s is good too.

  14. Those are all of their seasons with over 100 PA, so excluding cups of coffee. Swansby is the second-youngest and of course the least valuable, though Correa’s trouble staying on the field keeps it a bit closer.

    Correa (28yo)Swanson (28 yo)Turner (29 yo)Bogaerts (30 yo)

    Is Swanson more than half as valuable? I’d say yes. Is he worth $150 million? I’d also say yes.

  15. Steamer thinks Grissom will be worth 2.5 fWAR next year

    Steamer has no idea if Grissom can play defense, but if Grissom gave us 2.5 fWAR next year, then I’d be mighty tempted to spend 20-something million elsewhere.

  16. Remember when we called Bowman Peanut? DOB is definitely Peanut now.

  17. I would imagine with him getting married today that there won’t be any news on his status for at least another week.

  18. As for regrets? Well, this is just my opinion, but I tend to think that the “well, the team looks good now, but we’ll see how it looks in ten years” criticism to be a loser’s mentality. We could all be dead in ten years. A beer could be $35 in ten years. The end of the Turner/Bogaerts contracts are two full CBA negotiations away; who knows what the financial state of baseball (or America, or the world) looks like then.

    Fans have every right to want their team’s ownership to spend big. But if the state of baseball/America/the world is as uncertain as you suggest, seems reasonable to me that the actual winner’s mentality is maximizing and hoarding profits, not going all out to win a relatively inconsequential game.

  19. Since being hired as the Braves GM, AA has only signed one significant FA contract: Ozuna.

    Even before that, he was open about free agency and its inefficiency for grabbing talent. Ozuna’s situation has seemingly given AA PTSD and I can’t really blame him, but at some point, he’s got to adapt his philosophy for the right player, but I’m just not sure who that player will be and I can’t imagine it’ll be Correa or Dansby, especially in this market.

  20. Like Chipper said after Freddie left: if you want to be in Atlanta, you’ll be in Atlanta.

    But careers are short and there’s a lot of money in this game. I don’t blame him for wanting more money than the Braves will offer. And I don’t blame the Braves for being tight with their money. It’s business.

  21. @23 I’m not sure you can say just that without including extensions. After all, Ozuna’s “big contract” was really an extension. It was just an extension after he became a FA. AA has given out more money and longer terms to others. With that said, he may have some PTSD about Oxuna’s extension but I think most of the others are pretty successful so far. Several were done just this year and we don’t know how they’re going to turn out yet.

    For everyone banking on Grissom, I don’t think projections mean anything. He slumped terribly at the end of the year and has not shown he can come out of it. May definitely be on a “Riley trajectory” but that means it’ll be at least a couple of years before he’s a star. Riley needed more seasoning at AAA and Grissom will too.

  22. Grissom put up a 121 OPS+ in his partial season. I’m not sure how you can find any fault with that. 50 AB slumps are part of the game. Y’all are sleeping on him the same way you did with Riley.

  23. @Rog

    Ozuna was 30 when AA signed him to a 2nd FA deal. That’s much different than what he’s done with Albies, Acuña, Harris, Strider, and Riley. Olson is the outlier, for now.

  24. Steve Cohen is gonna owe Rob Manfred a hundred million bucks for the pleasure of earning second place in the NL East.

  25. Mets get another pitcher … Braves just gonna let the Phils and Mets just run away .. I thought there was talk of a top 5 payroll .. really ..LOL LOL ..Braves dream ..Mets and Phils act ….. come on AA bite the bullet .. lets go … I was thinking ..Im having doubts of Acuna ever getting back to where he was .. what might a package of Acuna, Albies , Anderson and Contreras bring ????

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