Johan Santana, royalty of the Mets, should be in the Hall of Fame
With a strikeout of David Freese on June 1, 2012, Johan Santana cemented himself in New York Mets history by launching the franchise’s first-ever no-hitter. It was a 50-year moment in building an organization that had always had a great pitch but never got that elusive no-no.
At that point, “No-Han” became a Mets legend. Even though he was, for the most part, only productive for the first half of his six-year contract, he will always have a special place in Mets history.
Santana made just 10 more major league starts after her no-hitter, all in 2012, before injuries claimed the rest of her career at the age of 33.
Santana was part of the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, but only received 10 of 422 possible votes, or 2.4%, and fell. At the very least, he shouldn’t have been a single candidate, receiving the same number of votes as Jamie Moyer.
At most, there’s an argument for Santana to have a plaque in Cooperstown, even if it’s not with a Mets logo on her cap.
That’s a tough argument, as he’s only spent 12-season games in the big leagues. Even then, he didn’t break 100 innings pitched in two of them. In his heyday however, he was nothing short of the league’s top pitcher.
It’s not even hyperbole – the statistics confirm it.
Santana really became a full-time starter in 2004 with the Minnesota Twins, and he was so dominant he won the AL Cy Young award with a 2.61 ERA and an MLB best 182 ERA +. Over the next six seasons, three with the Twins and three with the Mets, he established himself as one of the dominant forces in the game.
In that seven-year peak, Santana had a 2.87 ERA, 151 ERA + and 1,749 strikeouts in 1,512.1 innings pitched. He won two Cy Young Awards, ranked twice in the top 3 and in the top 5 once again. In his second season Cy Young, he won the Triple Crown. He’s won three ERA titles, made four All-Star teams and even turned his glove into gold.
Through Stathead, there were only four 2004-10 pitchers who had better ERA and ERA + than Santana. Of those four, three of them had a combined 23. The fourth was Roger Clemens, and even then he made less than half as many starts.
Santana’s 2.87 ERA and 151 ERA + were truly second to none. In those seven years, he scored better than many other big names, including Roy Halladay, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first poll in 2019. The Santana and Halladay summits stand by overlapped, with Halladay posting an ERA of 3.02 and 146 ERA + from 2004-10.
Yes, Halladay was longer because he had two good seasons before 2004 and one after 2010. That said, Santana’s peak was just as good if not better.
Another very good comparison is Felix Hernandez. The King should be an infallible hall of fame after his years of total domination in Seattle. Really though, his climax wasn’t much longer than Santana’s. Hernandez’s seven-year peak was very comparable, posting a 2.82 ERA and 138+ ERA over 1,595 innings. King Felix has just a few more seasons before and after this peak that are frankly average or lower than that.
The best comparison is perhaps one of the greatest of all time, an undisputed Hall of Famer and a southpaw: Sandy Koufax. Don’t get me wrong, Santana was no better than Koufax, but their two highs were so brief and their career as a whole was so much shorter than most of the greats.
Koufax and Santana both spent 12 seasons in the majors, but haven’t eclipsed 100 innings in either of the first two. Both had solid early years where they were partially used as a starter but didn’t have that role full time and then lightning struck.
Koufax enjoyed the last six years of his career quite dominant and was named to the Hall of Fame pretty much just because of those seasons. Through Stathead, from 1961 to 1966, Koufax had the best ERA and ERA + in the league among any pitchers with a substantial number of starts, as did Santana of 2004-10.
Santana is not Koufax, but the two have had periods of absolute dominance that were interrupted early due to injury. Koufax is in the Hall of Fame, Santana fell off the ballot in her first year.
When Santana was in his prime, there was literally no one better. Yes, his prime didn’t last as long as the other starters, but he just felt like it wasn’t more dominant than the other greats of his time.
Ultimately, that’s the argument for what matters most when it comes to building the Hall of Fame: longevity or greatness. Which starting pitcher deserves more, the one who has been very good for a long time or the one who has been the best for a shorter time.
Ultimately, there is a place for both. Santana, like Koufax, falls into the latter category.
No-Han’s greatness was not recognized when it came time to recognize it, and I hope that one day the Veterans Committee will correct this mistake.