Voting for baseball’s Hall of Fame can be a challenging process for fans to understand. Some of baseball’s best players are being held out because of their steroid ties, while others with lesser resumes are inducted. Some deserving players fall off the ballot and follow a much longer path to Cooperstown.
Two former Twins greats, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, were elected to the Hall of Fame this year through the era committee voting process. Four era committees are divided by baseball’s different eras. The Golden Days Committee elected Oliva and Kaat, and next winter, the era up for consideration is Today’s Game which covers 1988-Present. Johan Santana and Joe Nathan will get the opportunity to appear on this ballot in the years ahead.
Johan Santana’s Hall of Fame Case
Santana’s Cooperstown case is almost the exact opposite of newly elected Kaat. Santana was baseball’s best pitcher for multiple seasons, but his career was cut short due to injury. Kaat pitched for a long time and compiled solid numbers over a long career. He only received Cy Young votes in one season and finished a distant fourth that season. So what’s more important for a Hall of Fame case, longevity or peak value?
Injuries clearly impacted the longevity of Santana’s career, but there have been other players with shortened careers to be elected to Cooperstown. Twins fans are well familiar with Kirby Puckett and the injury that forced him to retire early. When he became eligible, voters had no problem selecting him on the first ballot. According to JAWS, Puckett ranks as the 24th best center fielder, with players like Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds, and Johnny Damon ranking ahead of him.
Sandy Koufax is considered one of the best starting pitchers of all time, and he compares very closely to Santana. Like Santana, Koufax pitched 12 years at the big-league level, which meant he retired before his age-31 season. According to JAWS, Koufax is the 96th best starting pitcher, and Santana is 26 places higher in the rankings. Santana also lost out on a third Cy Young that would have significantly helped his HOF candidacy.
Joe Nathan’s Hall of Fame Case
While Santana was out of baseball in his early 30s, Nathan didn’t become a big-league regular until his late 20s. Nathan pitched into his early 40s and established himself as one of the top-10 relievers of all time. Unfortunately, relievers are criminally underrepresented in Cooperstown, with it being the only position group to have fewer than ten elected players.
According to JAWS, Nathan is the eighth-best reliever which puts him ahead of Lee Smith, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter. Billy Wagner is a prime example of a reliever similar to Nathan, that has been gaining HOF support. Wagner ranks two spots ahead of Nathan regarding JAWS, and their career numbers are very similar. Wagner was named on 51% of the ballots in his seventh year of eligibility, a jump of over 40% since his first year. Now he has three more voting cycles to gain 24% of the vote.
Nathan’s career numbers put him in elite company. Among pitchers with at least 900 innings pitched, only Billy Wagner and Nolan Ryan have a lower Hits per Nine Innings ratio. He topped the 30-save mark in nine seasons, including accumulating 40 or more saves in four seasons. Even as a reliever, he had multiple top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young Award Voting. Also, Nathan ranks in the top-7 all-time relief pitchers using a hybrid average of WAR, WPA, and situational or context-neutral wins (WPA/LI).
Nathan was clearly one of the best relievers in baseball history. Santana was baseball’s best starting pitcher for multiple seasons. Their Hall of Fame cases are complicated, but they both deserve to be more than one-and-done on the ballot.
Who do you think was the bigger, more significant HOF snub? Will either player be elected to the Hall? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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