Johan Santana's Cooperstown Case: The Missing Cy Young
Image courtesy of Gregory Fisher-USA Today SportsPart 1: The Puckett Clause
Part 2: The Koufax Argument
Part 3: The Missing Cy Young
The Cy Young Award is baseball’s highest pitching honor. Some pitchers are in the conversation for the award on a regular basis. For current baseball fans, names like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are regulars on the year-end balloting. In his prime, Johan Santana was in this elite group.
When the 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot was released, one of the first items I noted was Santana’s high ranking on Baseball Reference’s Cy Young Award Share scale. His 2.72 shares rank him 13th all-time. This sandwiches him between Sandy Koufax and Justin Verlander. The only players in front of him who aren’t in the Hall of Fame are Roger Clemens (7.66 shares), Clayton Kershaw (4.56), Roy Halladay (3.50), and Max Scherzer (3.14). There’s a chance that all of those men eventually have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Santana’s biggest resume flaw might be the Cy Young that was taken away from him. During the 2004 season, he posted a 20-6 record with a 2.61 ERA, 265 strikeouts and an 8.6 WAR on the way to his first Cy Young Award. He was nearly as good during second Cy Young season (2006) when he went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA, 245 strikeouts and a 7.5 WAR. The season between his two Cy Youngs is the trophy that was stolen from him.
Bartolo Colon was named the 2005 Cy Young Award winner. He went 21-8 that year with a 3.48 ERA, 157 strikeouts and a 4.0 WAR. Santana couldn’t match Colon’s win-loss record but he bested him in every other category. He finished that season with a 16-7 record including a 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts and a 7.2 WAR.
Winning a third Cy Young is an elite resume item. There are ten three-time Cy Young winners and all of them are likely to eventually end up in the Hall. The list includes Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Max Scherzer and Sandy Koufax. Had the voters picked the correct winner in 2005, Santana would have joined this elite group and even furthered his Hall of Fame resume.
Ryan Romano at Beyond the Box Score wrote a piece in 2015 called “Cliff Lee and Johan Santana belong in the Hall of Fame.” He examined the peak value of these two players by looking at their WAR per 200 innings pitched and seasons of 5+ WAR. Santana ranks 10th all-time ahead of players like Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Bert Blyleven. This is just another measurement that puts Santana into elite company.
Is Santana likely to be a first ballot Hall of Famer? The answer is no but there are very compelling arguments as to why he should eventually be enshrined. If the voters applied the Kirby Puckett Clause, Santana’s case gains some steam. After comparing Santana to Sandy Koufax, it’s easy to see how their peaks were similar. Lastly, his missing Cy Young would have lofted him into the elite group of sure-fire Hall of Fame pitchers.
He was a master on the mound. A once in a generation pitcher. A pitcher who deserves his place in Cooperstown.