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Top Twins Players Not in the Hall of Fame: Johan Santana


Johan Santana was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time back in 2018. It was a loaded ballot with seven players on that ballot that have been inducted over the last couple years. Santana was listed on 10 ballots, so he didn’t meet the 5% requirement to stay on the ballot. It’s hard to ignore how good Santana was in his prime, but longevity is also something that comes into play. Let’s dive into Santana’s case for Cooperstown.Case for Induction

Santana isn’t the only player who had his career cut short due to injury and there are multiple examples of players like this in the Hall of Fame. Twins fans are well aware of the eye injury that ended Kirby Puckett’s career. Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30 because of elbow problems and arthritis. Both players were first ballot Hall of Famers.

 

Santana’s peak puts him near the same level as Koufax, who is considered one of the best pitchers all-time. According to JAWS, Santana ranks nearly a full point higher than Koufax. He also had more top five finishes in Cy Young voting and more top-5 finishes in player WAR. Santana finished with a higher ERA+, strikeout to walk ratio, and fewer walks per nine innings.

While Koufax pitched in an era of pitching dominance, Santana’s era was known for offensive dominance. Since the expansion era (post-1993), Santana’s 136 ERA+ ranks sixth among starting pitchers. Take a look at the names ahead of him: Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Brandon Webb, and Chris Sale. Martinez is already in the Hall. Kershaw and Sale look well on their way. ERA+ has Santana ranked higher than Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, two previous Hall of Fame inductees.

Case Against Induction

Much like with Tony Oliva, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the important cumulative stat totals that are associated with being elected to the Hall of Fame. He couldn’t pitch over 3,000 innings or strikeout 2,000 batter or accumulate a larger career WAR total. Even though he is ahead of Koufax according to JAWS, he is behind players like Chuck Finely and Kevin Appier who don’t exactly feel like they should be in Cooperstown.

 

One of the biggest reasons Santana might have been overlooked is the controversial 2005 Cy Young Award. The Athletic wrote about it earlier this week and I have previously discussed the topic here at Twins Daily. During the 2005 season, he led the AL in WHIP, strikeouts, most strikeouts per nine and fewest hits per nine. He won the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young, so a three-peat would have put him in rare company with only 11 three-time Cy Young winners.

 

Prediction

Fans have been able to see how starting pitching has changed in recent years. Gone are the days of pitchers going deep into games and seeing a line-up for a third time. Hall of Fame voters might also have to change their expectations when evaluating who gets into Cooperstown. Now, Santana must wait until he appears on the Veterans Committee ballot. It’s going to take time, but Santana is a Hall of Famer in my book.

 

Did Santana deserve to stay on the ballot for more than one season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

 

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I want to argue for him, but his best credential is that he might have matched Koufax. But Koufax is seen as one of the weaker HOFers by many.

 

And his peak was higher than Santana's in having a couple of 10+ WAR seasons. Comparing Cy Young finishes also isn't apples to apples, given that awards for each league didn't start until after Koufax retired. Additionally, writers only voted for one person, so there were many years when there weren't five pitchers getting a vote.

 

Koufax was the unanimous winner in the entire majors in all three of his wins. There's no way to know the answer to this, but though Santana was unanimous in the two AL Cy Young's, I'm not sure he'd have been unanimous if it was combined. And though he should have won in 2006, it probably wouldn't have been unanimous.

 

What I'm struck by in JAWS is that while his peak is thought of as very high, his JAWS7 (7 best years) only puts him 61st among pitchers, including 42nd among the 66 HOFers if he were included. In reality, he was only dominant for about four years when he was at 7.1+ in WAR, with another three years in the 4.1-5.0 range. If it was his peak that was going to carry him, I'd want it to be somewhat higher than the midpoint of HOFers (50.3, compared to his 45.0) or even in the top third or so (which would take about 54).  

 

So no, I don't think so. 

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Loved Santana and hated (but understood) that he was dealt. But, he wasn't dominant for all that long. I didn't do the number crunching like IndianaTwin did above, but he summed up my opinion pretty well based on the numbers.

 

I don't think he should or will get there either.

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