A Rare All-Star Brother Act for Willson and William Contreras

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in 30 years, a pair of brothers will be in the same All-Star Game lineup. On Sunday, when the full squads were announced, catchers Willson Contreras of the Cubs and William Contreras of the Braves both made the National League team. They’ll each be in the starting lineup, as Willson won the fan vote as the NL’s starting backstop, and William, who was elected as a reserve catcher by his fellow players, has been named to replace the injured Bryce Harper as the starting designated hitter.

This is the first time since 2003 that a pair of brothers has been named to the Midsummer Classic. That year, the Reds’ Aaron Boone was a reserve for the NL while the Mariners’ Bret Boone was a reserve for the American League. The last time two brothers started the same game was in 1992, when the AL squad featured Toronto’s Roberto Alomar at second base and Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr. at catcher.

By my count, a total of 18 19 sets of brothers (including one set of three brothers) has made the All-Star team at least once, with 10 sets making it in the same season at least once; both of those counts include players who were selected but did not get into the game. Five sets started in the same year at least once:

Brothers Who Were All-Stars in Same Season
Brother 1 Brother 2 Years
Roberto Alomar Sandy Alomar, Jr. 1990, ’91, ’92, ’96, ’97, ’98
Felipe Alou Matty Alou 1968
Aaron Boone Bret Boone 2003
Willson Contreras William Contreras 2022
Mort Cooper Walker Cooper 1942, ’43, ’46
Joe DiMaggio Dom DiMaggio 1941, ’42, ’46, ’49, ’50, ’51
Rick Ferrell Wes Ferrell 1933, ’37
Carlos May Lee May 1969, ’71
Gaylord Perry Jim Perry 1970
Dixie Walker Harry Walker 1943, ’47
Yellow = Started for same team at least once.

The Alomars were on opposite sides in 1990, when Roberto earned a reserve spot as a Padre, then started for the AL in both ’91 and ’92, and were teammates on the AL squad three more times. The Coopers were the starting pitcher (Mort) and catcher (Walker) for the NL in both 1942 and ’43, the only brother act with that distinction; though Rick Ferrell started for the AL in 1933, brother Wes never got into the game, or for that matter in ’37, the other time he was selected. The DiMaggios started for the AL in 1949 and were teammates six other times; meanwhile, brother Vince DiMaggio was an All-Star in 1943 and ’44, while both Joe and Dom were serving in the military. The Walkers started for the NL in 1947.

(The other brothers who each made at least one All-Star team in their careers but not in the same year: George Brett and Ken Brett, Brian Giles and Marcus Giles (a pairing I didn’t catch until post-publication), Lee Grissom and Marv Grissom, Pedro Martinez and Ramon Martinez, Joe Niekro and Phil Niekro, Carlos Perez and Pascual Perez, Corey Seager and Kyle Seager, Joe Sewell and Luke Sewell, and Lloyd Waner and Paul Waner; Lloyd did not get into the 1938 game, the only time he was selected.)

Additionally, the Conteras brothers join the Alous and DiMaggios by making the same All-Star team at the same position in the same year, though William’s elevation to starting DH spares them having to jockey for time behind the plate. Though positional distinctions have sometimes been tossed out the window for the purposes of All-Star teams, both Alous regularly played center field in 1968, and both DiMaggios were regularly center fielders; in 1949, Dom started in right (a position he briefly played nine years earlier) while Joe started in center.

The selection of the two Contreras brothers — a pair of offense-first catchers who are productive enough to DH when they’re not behind the plate — comes at a time when finding catchers who can actually hit well is difficult. Collectively, catchers have produced just an 86 wRC+ this year, and haven’t been above 90 since 2014 save for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season:

Between the defensive demands and the susceptibility to injury, there aren’t a ton of good hitters for the position. Of the 25 players with at least 150 PA as catchers this year (i.e., not as designated hitters, first basemen, pinch-hitters or whatever), only 11 have a wRC+ of 100, about one for every three teams, and if you raise the bar to 200 PA, only five do (Willson Contreras is three short of that cutoff). Down below 100 are formerly (?) productive hitters such as J.T. Realmuto (94 wRC+ in 300 PA), Gary Sánchez (83 in 152 PA), Austin Nola (73 in 200 PA), and Salvador Perez (53 in 152 PA). It’s a difficult job.

By far the more surprising of the selections is that of William Contreras, who at 24 years old is five and a half years younger than Willson and has yet to spend a full season in the majors. Signed out of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela by the Braves in February 2015, he broke camp with the Braves in the pandemic-shortened ’20 season when both Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers were sidelined by COVID-19 symptoms, making two starts and coming off the bench twice before being sent to the alternate training site. He bounced between the alt site, Triple-A Gwinnett and the Braves last year, being optioned four times; in 185 PA for Atlanta, he hit .215/.303/.399 (86 wRC+).

When the Braves signed Manny Piña to a two-year, $8 million deal last November to serve as d’Arnaud’s backup, William appeared in for another season of yo-yoing. He made the expanded roster to start the season but played just once before being optioned to Gwinnett on April 12 to make room for more pitching. He returned 16 days later when Piña was put on the injured list due to inflammation in his left wrist, and homered twice against the Rangers on April 29. On May 11, the Braves announced that Piña would undergo season-ending surgery to clean up cartilage and ligament damage in the wrist, by which point Contreras had notched another homer in one of his three appearances.

William has continued to wield a particularly potent bat while backing up d’Arnaud and getting additional reps at DH, hitting .273/.358/.566 (154 wRC+) with 11 homers in just 162 PA overall. He’s barreling the ball at a 16% clip, with a 90.3 mph average exit velocity and a 47% hard-hit rate. He’s destroying both four-seam fastballs and sinkers, hitting a combined .358 and slugging .802 against them, up from .247 AVG/.505 SLG last year, but he’s been utterly vexed by breaking balls (.118 AVG/.157 SLG).

Until this season, William had never DHed for the Braves, but this year, he’s made 12 starts there and come off the bench once. He’s only hit .205/.271/.318 (65 wRC+) in 48 PA in that capacity, compared to .304/.402/.696 (198 wRC+) with 10 homers in 26 starts and two bench appearances totaling 107 PA as a catcher. Only d’Arnaud and two other players have homered more often while serving as catchers, all while making at least 84 more plate appearances at the position:

Most Home Runs as a Catcher, 2022
Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR%
Jonah Heim TEX 220 12 .271 .318 .488 128 5.5%
Travis d’Arnaud ATL 237 11 .268 .321 .486 123 4.6%
Cal Raleigh SEA 191 11 .206 .277 .471 112 5.8%
William Contreras ATL 107 10 .304 .402 .696 198 9.3%
Will Smith LAD 244 10 .256 .336 .437 119 4.1%
Willson Contreras CHC 197 9 .255 .391 .503 152 4.6%
Sean Murphy OAK 262 9 .242 .305 .424 110 3.4%
Martín Maldonado HOU 216 8 .160 .234 .320 59 3.7%
Eric Haase DET 115 7 .283 .330 .538 143 6.1%
Jose Trevino NYY 167 7 .256 .299 .436 108 4.2%
J.T. Realmuto PHI 300 7 .246 .313 .381 94 2.3%
MJ Melendez KCR 144 7 .223 .292 .431 102 4.9%
Danny Jansen TOR 60 7 .222 .283 .630 146 11.7%
Ryan Jeffers MIN 185 7 .211 .288 .398 95 3.8%
Statistics do not include time at other positions.

As you can see, only Jansen, who has been limited to 15 games behind the plate due to injuries, has a higher rate of home runs per plate appearance.

Despite his paucity of playing time, William was elected as a reserve by his fellow players (they choose one player per position per league), then selected to start at DH due to Harper’s thumb injury. D’Arnaud, who himself is hitting .262/.313/.472 (117 wRC+) also made the NL squad via a selection by the commissioner’s office. This is the eighth season in which two catchers from the same team were selected, with the Yankees’ Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar making it in 1942, and both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard doing so in 1957, ’58, ’59 (second game only), ’60 (both games), ’61 (both games), and ’62 (second game only). In the Berra/Howard era, both spent significant time playing the outfield corners when they weren’t catching, with Berra doing the bulk of the backstopping until 1960, when Howard became the regular.

On the one hand, the Braves would probably benefit from getting William’s bat in the lineup more often given regular DH Marcell Ozuna’s lousy hitting (.228/.282/.422, 93 wRC+), but between Ozuna’s big contract and the desire to develop Contreras’ defense, the team has limited its usage of the latter in both capacities. He’s a work in progress behind the plate; he’s thrown out 25% of would-be base thieves in 241 innings this year and is 0.8 runs below average in pitch framing. That’s an improvement in the latter department. In his 435.2 innings from 2020-21, William caught 30% of stolen base attempts but was 5.7 runs below average by our framing measures. By Statcast, he’s been two runs below average in framing both last year and this one, while via Baseball Prospectus‘ numbers, he was 4.0 runs below average last year (and 4.5 runs below average overall, including throwing and blocking) but has improved to +0.9 both in framing and overall, offering hope that the Braves’ investment in his defensive development will pay off.

For the 30-year-old Willson Contreras, this is the third time he’s been elected to start for the NL; he did so in 2018 and ’19 as well. He’s in the midst of his best season at the plate, hitting .266/.384/.483 with 13 homers and a 145 wRC+ in 318 PA. That on-base percentage is a career high, 27 points ahead of his previous best, set in his 2016 rookie season, and 31 points ahead of his career mark. Despite a 35.3% chase rate (the second-highest of his career), and a 50% swing rate (the highest), he’s walking at a career-best 11% clip, and his OBP is further boosted by his major league-leading 16 hit-by-pitches. He led the NL with 14 two years ago, and was hit 14 times again last year; he’s already blown past that to a black-and-blue career high. Ouch!

More impressively, Willson has cut his strikeout rate from 28.6% to 20.8%. He’s whiffing less often against breaking pitches (from 45.1% last year to 33% this year) while raising his wOBA against them from .274 to .352. A closer look shows that while he’s annihilated curveballs (.409 AVG/.864 SLG in 28 PA), he’s struggled against sliders (.180 AVG/.290 SLG in 69 PA). Overall, his 91.1 mph average exit velocity places him in the 83rd percentile and his 50.6% hard-hit rate in the 93rd percentile; his 9.5% barrel rate is only in the 63rd percentile, but he’s got good enough speed (61st percentile) that he collects more hits on grounders than your average catcher.

Speaking of which, Willson has 27 starts at DH, compared to 45 at catcher. He’s made better contact and hit somewhat better on the days he’s wearing the tools of ignorance:

Willson Contreras Splits by Position
C 197 91.9 .255 .391 .503 .391 .414 152
DH 120 89.6 .286 .375 .457 .367 .349 136

For what it’s worth, in 2020, the only other season in which he saw significant DH duty, Willson hit .298/.431/.561 in 18 games and 72 PA as a DH, but just .220/.320/.341 in 153 PA as a catcher.

Willson has started just over half of the Cubs’ 86 games, with Yan Gomes (30 starts) and P.J. Higgins (11 starts) making up the balance. The truth is that he’s just not great behind the plate. His pitch framing is 3.5 runs below average in just 386 innings according to our measure, and 3.3 below average via BP, though Statcast has him at average. In 895 innings last year, his framing was 4.5 runs below average via FanGraphs, 3.9 below via BP, and one below via Statcast. Via BP’s comprehensive defensive numbers, he was 4.9 runs below average last year and 3.2 below average this year; it would appear his already-subpar defensive skills are declining, but then again the sample of innings isn’t huge.

Given the Cubs’ extensive teardown since the 2020-21 offseason, the expectation is that Willson — who can become a free agent this winter — will be dealt by the time the August 2 trade deadline rolls around. His bat will place him in high demand. I’ll have a more thorough rundown of potential destinations later this month in my Replacement Level Killers series, but contenders getting wretched offense from their backstops include the Cardinals (42 wRC+), Guardians (46), Mets (47), Astros (53), and Rays (59), with the Giants (85) notably bad as well. For now, though, he’s still part of the National League, and he and his brother can enjoy the family reunion in Los Angeles.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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6 months ago

It seems like this year teams have been much more willing to use catchers as DHs when they are not catching than previously. Willson Contreras, William Contreras, Yasmani Grandal, Alejandro Kirk, MJ Melendez, Sean Murphy, Salvador Perez, Gary Sanchez, and Will Smith all have at least 10 G at C and 10 G at DH.

I know this is the first full-length season with that as an option for NL teams, but it seems like AL teams used to just give catchers a day off, either because their catchers weren’t good enough hitters to DH or they didn’t want to risk losing the DH for the game if the other catcher got injured.

Does anyone know if the rate of catchers DHing has actually increased or does it just feel like? It also seems like fewer catchers are playing first base when not catching.