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Johan Santana’s Cooperstown Case: The Puckett Clause

On a late summer day under the Metrodome’s Teflon covering, fans watched a master at work. Johan Santana dominated the Texas Rangers over eight shutout innings. He set a Twins team record with 17 strikeouts and allowed only two hits. For the over 36,000 fans in attendance, it was Mozart’s greatest symphony or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It was the music of a man on his way to the Hall of Fame.

In a perfect world, Santana would have pitched into his late 30’s or early 40’s while continuing to be one of the best in the game. That ideal world didn’t play out and he never pitched a big league game after the age of 33. At the height of his career, there is no doubt that he was the best pitcher on the planet.

This year will mark his first chance at being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In this series, I will build up Santana’s case for enshrinement. The following is a paean to the career of the southpaw from Venezuela. A man who should and can be elected into the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown.
Image courtesy of Gregory Fisher-USA Today Sports
The Puckett Clause
Twins fans are well aware of the legend of Kirby Puckett. His career tragically ended too soon at the young age of 35 after 12 seasons. Puckett was a dominant player during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Twins won two championships in a five year span. For 10 straight seasons, he was named an American League All-Star and he won six Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. Some would argue he willed the Twins to a Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with his heroic actions in Game 6.

Puckett was on a path for the Hall of Fame before his career was cut short. He wasn’t able to compile the same type of careers numbers that would scream Hall of Fame player. He only had two seasons in the top 10 for WAR and his career WAR only places him as the 184th all-time position player. That ties him with Brian Giles. Heck, even Joe Mauer ranks higher. There are plenty of people who believe he shouldn’t be part of Cooperstown’s elite group.

The members of the BBWAA thought differently about Puckett. He was elected on his first ballot with 82.1% of the vote which easily cleared the 75% needed for induction. By receiving 36 more votes than were needed, he joined Dave Winfield in the Class of 2001. Puckett was able to pack enough into 12 seasons and the writers honored him for being one of baseball’s best for the better part of a decade.

Applying the Puckett Clause
Much like Puckett, Santana saw his career ended too early because of injury. Santana wasn’t hit in the head with a Dennis Martinez fastball. Instead, his golden left arm was betrayed by an ailing left shoulder. Some Santana supporters will point to his no-hitter on June 1, 2012 as his Puckett-Martinez moment. On the way to the first no-hitter in Mets’ franchise history, Santana tossed 134 pitches. At the conclusion of that contest, his season ERA dropped to 2.38 but he posted an 8.27 mark over his final ten appearances. He would never pitch in another MLB game.

With writers limited to 10 names per ballot, it could be easy for some to ignore what Santana was able to accomplish. From 2003 through 2008, he pitched at much more than a Hall of Fame level. In over 1400 innings, he posted a 2.86 ERA (156 ERA+) while striking out four times as many batters as he walked. Throw in two Cy Young Awards and a third award that was stolen from him and it looks like he has a solid case for Cooperstown.

As with Puckett, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the numbers needed to be deemed Hall of Fame worthy. He couldn’t pitch 3,000 innings. He couldn’t strike out 2,500 batters. He couldn’t accumulate a large career WAR total. If he had been able to pitch four or five more seasons in the back-end of a rotation, he’d be a lock for the Hall. His ailing shoulder took those seasons away.

The greatness of careers shortened by injury should be given the benefit of the doubt. When Twins fans examine Kirby Puckett, it is clear that he was a Hall of Fame player. One high and tight fastball from Dennis Martinez deprived Twins Territory of the end of his career. Santana fits the same mold as he dominated the game before an injury forced him off the mound.

The Puckett Clause applies and only strengthens Santana’s case for Cooperstown.

Should the Puckett Clause be applied to Santana? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Don’t forget to stop back in the coming weeks as I continue to make the Cooperstown Case for Johan Santana.

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58 Comments

Re: the Puckett clause:

 

Check out the Tony Oliva Clause, the Doc Gooden Clause, the Fernando Valenzuela Clause, the Mike Scott Clause and the Ron Guidry Clause as well.

 

If those guys are not in the Hall, Johan does not belong either.

    • Jerr, Dantes929, mikelink45 and 2 others like this
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OldManWinter
Nov 27 2017 09:01 PM
I agree with you Mr Christie.

To me, that is exactly where Tony O and Jim Kaat are too.

Injuries derailed their outstanding careers. None of the three would be the worst at their position if they were in the Hall.
    • 70charger likes this

What's a bit funny is that because the writers completely screwed the pooch during the 2005 CY Young voting, then can say he only won two CYs. I Imagine three might have gotten him in. 

    • gil4, Dantes929, ThejacKmp and 3 others like this

I loved him.He was awesome.He was the best in baseball for awhile.He was 139-78 in 12 seasons.He struck out just under 2000 batters in just over 2000 innings.He didn't lead his team to championships.Nice career, just not a Hall of Fame resume'.

 

Boy was it exciting to watch him at his peak though.

    • USAFChief, mikelink45, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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yarnivek1972
Nov 27 2017 09:38 PM
A better, more obvious comparison is Sandy Koufax. Of course, one thing Koufax has (and so did Puckett actually) is multiple World Series rings. Not saying that no one without that can get in, but when a guy is borderline, that matters. It did with Bert. It may still with Morris.
    • gil4, KGB, mickeymental and 1 other like this

Puckett had two world series titles and had one of the greatest world series single game performances ever.

Santana was elite, but his career got cut short.

If I ran the hall of fame, Santana would be in, no doubt about it. But I'm also not going to pretend like it's some crime against humanity when he fails to ever reach even 60% 

If Santana won a ring or two or had some elite post season run one year? He's probably in.

Is it fair? Nah.

But that's what sports are. 

Rings matter.

    • Blake, gil4 and caninatl04 like this

 

A better, more obvious comparison is Sandy Koufax. Of course, one thing Koufax has (and so did Puckett actually) is multiple World Series rings. Not saying that no one without that can get in, but when a guy is borderline, that matters. It did with Bert. It may still with Morris.

It matters IMO. Sports is still about winning when it matters most. His fault or not, Santana's post season numbers just weren't very good.
1-3, 3.97 ERA 

2004 was different, as he crushed it in his two starts, but unfortunately the Twins gonna Twins...

According to Bill James, Puckett was the 7th best CF at the time of his retirement, so stat heads seemed to like him. In 12 years, the fans voted him into 10 all-star games, so the fans seemed to think he was pretty good. When he retired he had the third most combined GG and silver sluggers for any outfielder, so the managers thought he was pretty good. I've always thought the writers did a nice job with selecting Puckett and not waiting for some statistical benchmark like 3000 hits or 60 WAR or whatever compiled stat you want.

 

I know WAR is the current hot stat and it doesn't like Puck as much as other stats do but there's enough problems with WAR where we can look at Puck's other claims and put him in.

 

 

    • diehardtwinsfan, Longdistancetwins, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

 

What's a bit funny is that because the writers completely screwed the pooch during the 2005 CY Young voting, then can say he only won two CYs. I Imagine three might have gotten him in. 

i prefer light shining brighter over lesser light shining longer.3 awards does seem to be a pretty good threshold for Cy Youngs and batting titles. If a guy got three of those he should be in even if he only played 3 seasons.That is my case for Oliva and Mauer. Santana should be a shoe in with 3 Cy Young's. The fact that heonly has two but should have had 3 or maybe even 4 (2008) is what makes him a borderline guy, IMO. No tears if he doesn't get in.You can make a case, but it is still borderline.

    • Jerr and mikelink45 like this

 

According to Bill James, Puckett was the 7th best CF at the time of his retirement, so stat heads seemed to like him. In 12 years, the fans voted him into 10 all-star games, so the fans seemed to think he was pretty good. When he retired he had the third most combined GG and silver sluggers for any outfielder, so the managers thought he was pretty good. I've always thought the writers did a nice job with selecting Puckett and not waiting for some statistical benchmark like 3000 hits or 60 WAR or whatever compiled stat you want.

 

I know WAR is the current hot stat and it doesn't like Puck as much as other stats do but there's enough problems with WAR where we can look at Puck's other claims and put him in.

Well to be fair, it's kinda silly to compare Puckett to Santana to begin with.

Puckett was always a sure thing first ballot hall of famer, pretty sure even if he played from 2001-2015 and had the same career it would still be a complete no brainer.

Santana is a borderline hall of famer. Hard for anyone to say he is a 'sure thing' one way or another.
 

 

Re: the Puckett clause:

 

Check out the Tony Oliva Clause, the Doc Gooden Clause, the Fernando Valenzuela Clause, the Mike Scott Clause and the Ron Guidry Clause as well.

 

If those guys are not in the Hall, Johan does not belong either.

Mike Scott >>>>>> Johan ? I guess the Mike Scott clause, as well as the other pitcher clauses are called t pull the names out of a hat of players who had long careers with a short window of great success. Nothing at all like Sanana's career.

I am a small Hall person, I would not put in Mussina or Shilling and I would not put in Santana.Loved to watch him, but not an all time great.  

I was at that game vs Texas.I think MIllwood only gave up a couple of hits too and had about 10 Ks.A solo homer by Cuddyer I think was all of the scoring.There were boos when Nathan came out in the 9th.The late innings were loud and it was an awesome atmosphere.As dominant as he was, I think he goes into the the Hall of Very Good, just not the Hall of Fame.

I think Johan is a fair choice. He's a little borderline because the career was so short (only 8 seasons as a full-time starter, only 12 seasons total) but the peak was pretty stunning.

 

2 Cy's that no one questions. Should have won a 3rd, and would have in today's voting. Could have won a 4th and been a perfectly reasonable choice (2008). Finished top 5 five year in a row. in a row!

 

Led the league in ERA 3 times, K's 3 times, IPs twice, WHIP four times...the "black type" splattered across his resume is fantastic. Heck his career ERA+ is actually better than Koufax!

 

Koufax had better post-season success, but also was fortunate that his post-season opportunities primarily came at the same time he peaked as a player. Johan only made three post-season appearances in seasons where he started the full year and had become "Johan": he was great in all of them, so it's not like his post-season record was a mess. Just limited opportunity.

 

I don't think Johan is a slam dunk, but he was so great and he did do it for an extended period: 5 straight years of being the best damn pitcher in baseball that I think he's a fair choice for the Hall. His case is closer to Koufax than Guidry in my mind. Take the top ten seasons from Guidry and Santana and lay them side-by-side from best to worst: Guidry had exactly 2 seasons that would top Johan's. Johan's 6th best season is roughly as good as Guidry's 2nd best; other than Guidry's ridiculous '78 season the others aren't all that close.

 

Koufax is a much closer comp; if he's a no-doubt HoFer, Johan at least deserves very very serious consideration. I think the stretch of greatness was long enough he deserves to get in, even without the handful of additional solid years that would have locked it down.

    • 70charger and Longdistancetwins like this

Puckett's career ended because of glaucoma, not because he was hit by a pitch in the face. The glaucoma had nothing to do with the HBP. 

    • ThejacKmp and laloesch like this

Also, Puckett is in the hall because of his two rings and his 1991 Game 6. Hands down. Take those away and he'd be sitting with Tony Oliva in the hall of very good players with short careers. 

 

Santana has no such postseason heroics (through no fault of his own -- he pitched well in the postseason when given the chance). 

    • Respy likes this
Santana is my all-time favorite Twin. That being said, in a perfect world with a perfect HOF induction process, I don't think he's in.

However, I gave up trying to argue that certain players are not HOF worthy. I think the field is diluted to the point that it's far easier to argue that a guy should be in than shouldn't.

It's the same way I feel about Torii Hunter. He probably shouldn't be in, but hey, why not?

No Jack Morris no Johan Santana.

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ALessKosherScott
Nov 28 2017 02:16 PM

Santana's run from 2002 to 2008 is akin to Sandy Koufax's from 1960 to 1966 or Dizzy Dean's in the late 30s. Both are in, as should Santana be.

 

If the Hall of Fame starts penalizing truly great players who had their careers cut short by injury, then it's time to burn down the Hall of Fame.

    • 70charger likes this
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nicksaviking
Nov 28 2017 02:23 PM

He'll need the narrative to change. Maybe he'll get in once everyone takes a look at his game logs and starts talking about how his career was effectively over after the Mets let him throw 134 pitches so the team could get it's first ever no-hitter.

 

If he's a league-wide sympathetic figure who's downfall was due to the Mets callousness, he might get in. And it's not like the Mets reputation with pitchers won't help the cause, they are well positioned to play the villain, fair or not.

Saberhagen 85-91 won two Cy Youngs and had a third year worth 8 WAR and didn't even receive a vote. 

    • Thrylos likes this
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ALessKosherScott
Nov 28 2017 02:38 PM

 

Saberhagen 85-91 won two Cy Youngs and had a third year worth 8 WAR and didn't even receive a vote. 

 

Saberhagen has 20 black inks throughout his career. Santana sits at 42. 

 

Saberhagen was a great pitcher in the late 80s, but the best pitcher in the game was Roger Clemens. Santana was the best pitcher in baseball from about 2004 to 2008.

Puckett received quite a few sympathy votes, no doubt, although he probably didn't have more than one or two good years left in him. He had a good year at 35, but what are the chances that a chubby guy who had played his whole career on the fuzzy concrete still would have been going strong at 37-38? Not really good.

 

Anyway, his WAR/JAWS and WAR7 peak put him on the level of Fred Lynn and Bernie Williams, but he had the sympathy vote on his side, and he was the face of two World Series champs. (Poor Bernie, just one of the Very Good players on the Yankees dynasty.)

 

Johan's WAR7 peak puts him right between Dave Stieb and Don Drysdale, not far below Koufax, and just a bit ahead of Luis Tiant, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, David Cone, and Justin Verlander. So there is a case that he was about as good as Koufax and Drysdale, although his WAR7 is only tied with Stieb for 62nd all-time, far short of elite level. Was he on the level of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux? WAR7 says no.

 

And since Johan doesn't have the legendary World Series performances on his resume, I suppose that he'll go down like Dave Stieb--who also was done in by an injury in his early 30's.

 

Saberhagen 85-91 won two Cy Youngs and had a third year worth 8 WAR and didn't even receive a vote. 

 

And Saberhagen probably deserved a little more consideration than he got, but Johan is still the superior pitcher. ('87 Saberhagen should have gotten Cy votes, but Clemens won it and deserved it; Viola was arguably better than Saberhagen that year as well)

 

ERA+: Saberhagen had four years over 140, Santana had six. Saberhagen had three years over 150, Santana had five. 

 

Outside of Saberhagen's amazing '89 he rarely led the league in much of anything; Santana had a 5 year run where he was leading the league in K's ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, IPs multiple times.

 

Santana had a higher, more consistent peak. Saberhagen was able to come back from equally horrid injury to grind out a few extra seasons. Both great pitchers, but I'd put Santana above Saberhagen. Both are clearly superior to jack Morris, who is more likely to get elected.

    • 70charger and jimmer like this

By the numbers it's a tough sell. But HOF voters don't necessarily go by the numbers. Santana will get votes, probably a lot of them. Was Santana the best pitcher in the game for a few years? Most who can remember would say yes.


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