The Hall of Fame is broken. We know this. This week the 2018 voting results come out, which made a lot of people very mad online. To me one of the biggest problems with the Hall is we don't know what we're voting for anymore. Babe Ruth (163.1 career WAR) and Rick Ferrell (29.8 career WAR) are both in the same Hall. Makes no sense. Are we voting for longevity? Peak? Did you have to be good or great? This is all before considering guys from the steroid era and the current backlog on the ballot.
This bring us to Johan Santana, who fell off the ballot in his first try this year. Santana received less than the minimum 5% of ballot votes. In fact, he received just 10 (the same number as Jamie Moyer WHAT THE FUCK?!)
*Takes deep breath*
Is Johan Santana a Hall-of-Famer? No, but his body of work deserves recognition. I propose we make three "Halls"...the Hall of the Elite (Ruth, Bonds, Mantle, Mays), the Hall of Very Good (Biggio, Rice, Beltran) and the Hall of Apex (Santana). Let's discuss.
Johan Santana was simultaneously a late bloomer and someone who’s career ended far sooner than it should’ve. He was signed by the Houston Astros and left unprotected in the 1999 Rule 5 draft. The Minnesota Twins wound up with him. Incredibly, he made it to the majors in 2000 at just 21 years old, but he was terrible. Santana posted a 6.49 ERA in 30 games (5 starts). Simply put he looked overmatched.
In what would then become a sign of things to come, Santana struggled with injuries in 2001. He pitched just 43 2/3 innings before "breaking out" in 2002. In Triple-A that season Santana developed what would become his signature pitch: the change-up. What made this pitch so good for the Venezuelan southpaw was that he threw it with the same arm action to that of his fastball...but it was up to 15 mph slower. Phew.
Once called up to the bigs in 2002 he posted a 2.99 ERA. Keep in mind this was during the steroid era. He followed that up with a 3.07 ERA in 2003, which led to a 7th place finish in the AL Cy Young voting. He was also Minnesota's Game 1 starter in the ALDS that year.
Then, in 2004, Santana began the peak of his apex. He followed up his '03 "breakout season" with a deserving Cy Young award. That year, which was probably his best, Johan went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts. He fell one win shy of the pitching triple crown. In the second half alone Santana went 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 129 strikeouts in just 104 1/3 innings pitched.
Between 2004 and 2006 Santana was legitimately the best pitcher alive. During those three years he finished first, third, and first in the American League Cy Young voting. He won two ERA titles, two strikeout titles, led the league in ERA+ three times, WHIP three times, FIP three times, hits per nine three times, and K/9 three times. SHEESH.
Following another strong campaign in 2007 Santana was traded to the New York Mets. He finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in '08 while winning another ERA title, but that was his final hoorah as a MLB ace. He was effective the next couple of years, but injuries limited his durability. He didn't play at all in 2011, and after pitching a no-hitter in 2012 he never made it back to the majors.
THE HOF CASE
Santana accumulated 51.4 career WAR with a 3.20 lifetime ERA. Those are really good numbers, but they aren't Hall of Fame numbers. Still, I can't get peak Santana out of my head. 51 career WAR is no joke either. This is why we need the Hall of Apex.
Let's put into perspective how good Santana really was. There's an excellent Baseball Reddit post out there that compares Santana to Sandy Koufax. It is generally acknowledged that 1961-66 Koufax was one of the most dominant pitching stretches of all time. During that run Koufax posted a 2.19 ERA with 9.4 K/9. From '03 - '08 Santana put up a 2.85 ERA with 9.4 K/9. However when you adjust for era, which ERA+ does, both pitchers posted a 156 ERA+ during their respective stretches.
This isn't to say Santana was better than or even as good as Koufax. It's just to point out how similar their peaks were. Koufax has all the no-hitters and playoff heroics. I get that. It's just that Santana was elite too. His body just couldn't sustain the workload.
The last point I want to make is that all these stats can't count for how good he was just by using the eye test. What I remember is just his sheer dominance. I’m only 24 years old so haven’t seen as much baseball as I’d like, but for me, he's the only starter to ever undoubtedly claim the title of "best pitcher alive" in the years between Pedro and Kershaw. That alone is enough for recognition. Johan Santana belongs in the Hall of Apex.