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Johan Santana's Cooperstown Case: The Missing Cy Young

In the spring of 2004, Johan Santana left his native Venezuela as one of baseball’s brightest stars. He would return to a hero’s welcome the next fall after being named the first Venezuelan-born Cy Young winner. He went on national TV with the country’s president, he received medals and honors, and his hometown held a parade in his honor. He was a living legend in his homeland.

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
Part 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.

Case closed.


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12 Comments

I will agree that he should have won the Cy in 2005.  It shouldn't have been close but the advanced metrics were mostly shunned at the time.  Now we look back at King Felix and his Cy and can see if the same standards were applied he would have gotten it.

 

HOF?  I would argue post season success.  Every one of those players you name above won a World Series except Max Scherzer and Kershaw (Maddux won one with the Braves right?).  That is why I would suggest he would not get one...right or wrong, I am not sure the case is closed.

 

I will agree that he should have won the Cy in 2005.  It shouldn't have been close but the advanced metrics were mostly shunned at the time. 

Yeah, fWAR wasn't even around until 2008. And it was the original WAR stat. bWAR came in 2010. That is why I find it funny when people blame WAR for Morris not making it.WAR wasn't even a thing for like thee first 7 or 8 of the years Morris was on the ballot.WAR wasn't taken seriously till he had been on the ballot for about 10, 11 years.

 

Anyway, problem is, the only old school stat Bartolo had on Santana was wins. For the rest of them (ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, IP, K/9, SHO, CG, QS) Santana destroyed him.It should have been Santana, then Rivera, and Colon somewhere around 5th or 6th. Colon won because HE 'won' over 20 games.Getting a full run of support more than Santana helped Colon's cause :-)

 

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theBOMisthebomb
Dec 14 2017 07:20 AM
I don't remember, yet am assuming that Colon's charm and popularity played at least a small part in him getting that Cy Young over Johan. Was the "Big Sexy" nonsense a thing yet when this happened? Johan should be in the HOF (just barely, though).

 

I don't remember, yet am assuming that Colon's charm and popularity played at least a small part in him getting that Cy Young over Johan. Was the "Big Sexy" nonsense a thing yet when this happened? Johan should be in the HOF (just barely, though).

 

No it wasn't back then.  He was more of a strike out pitcher, threw hard.  He was not nearly as comical on the mound, as far as weight and some of the other things that make him endearing now...I guess.

Santana's miss on the Cy was really the start of the "hey, maybe judging starting pitchers on wins isn't very good" movement breaking more mainstream. Maybe being part of a watershed moment helps?

 

a third Cy certainly would have made his case much stronger for the more traditional crowd.

 

I'd vote for Johan. the level of greatness is there, the peak was at the max for long enough for me to get over the relative brevity of his career.

 

I don't remember, yet am assuming that Colon's charm and popularity played at least a small part in him getting that Cy Young over Johan. Was the "Big Sexy" nonsense a thing yet when this happened? Johan should be in the HOF (just barely, though).

 

Naw, that wasn't a thing then.* He was relatively young and was truly a great pitcher. It was the Wins that did it. Really infuriating at the time.

* I'd argue that Colon's "charm" has nothing to do with today. He's not a particularly friendly or affable guy. A good teammate and all but he's not charming. It's mainly that he's big and fat and old and Americans like that aged underdog narrative. Big Sexy doesn't hurt either.

 

    • theBOMisthebomb likes this

I'm a small hall guy so I'd say no Johan if I were running the whole shebang.

 

But that would also involve me booting guys like Blyleven and Puckett and what not. Since that's not reality and we live in the present, he should be in. He's as good as many guys in the hall and he was one of the two or three most dominant pitchers for 6-7 years.

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AlwaysinModeration
Dec 14 2017 12:44 PM
In that years the Angels went 22-11 in Colón starts while the Twins went 24-9 in Santana starts. Maybe the voters were looking at the wrong win totals.
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DutchFarmer
Dec 14 2017 01:16 PM

I've always had this thought that for someone to get into the HOF he should have to have been generally regarded - or at least have a reasonable argument - as being the best player in the game at his position for some healthy amount of time (not very scientific, I know), in additional to the lifetime stats, postseason results, etc. For this reason I think Johan belongs in (definitely best in 2006, in the conversation in 2005, and probably best in 2004) but just don't think Morris or Blyleven - among others - should be in.

In 2004, John Kruk was adamant that Curt Schilling should win the AL Cy Young because he won 21 games to Santana's 20."It's all about winning." 

 

I was quite pleased to see him let down.

In 2004, John Kruk was adamant that Curt Schilling should win the AL Cy Young because he won 21 games to Santana's 20. "It's all about winning."

I was quite pleased to see him let down.

Yeah, Kruk likes the win stat for pitchers. Maybe in a few years, when he is in his 60s, he will be asked to join the Modern ERA committee, which just elected Morris to the HOF. No one under 60 on that 16 member committee. Ages ranged anywhere for 60 to over 80. Average age of the committee members around 72.
A long look at Johan from Jay Jaffe. He might sneak in, just going to take 20 years.

http://amp.si.com/ml...impression=true

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