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Johan Santana Isn’t Koufax Or a Hall of Famer

Baseball can be cruel. For proof of that you need look no further than  Johan Santana

If two or three things reasonably happened, he’s a Hall of Famer instead of his teetering around the 5% thereby forever falling off the ballot. 

The biggest issue is his shoulder injury that ended his career. 

In 2012, it seemed like he was back. Through 11 starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.029 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and a no-hitter under his belt. 

After that no-hitter, his effectiveness waned, and his shoulder issues reemerged. Although he’s tried to comeback, it hasn’t happened. 

Now, he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot with the hopes that people will look at him as his generation’s Sandy Koufax

For the uninitiated, Koufax was elected into the Hall of Fame largely because voters completely disregarded the first seven years if his career and instead focused on the five brilliant years to end his career. 

During that five year stretch, Koufax’s average season was 22-7, 1.95 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, and a 9.4 K/9. He’d win three Cy Youngs with a 167 ERA+ and 2.00 FIP. To put it succinctly, he was great. 

So great, that he amassed 46.6 of his 53.2 WAR. Again, the first seven years of his career weren’t great. 

Like Koufax, Santana got off to a slow start to his career. This was partially due to his being a 21 year old Rule 5 pick who went straight from Single-A to the majors. 

It took two years for Santana to figure things out and five before he would find his dominant form. Like Koufax, when he found it, he was probably the best pitcher in the game. 

In his own five year stretch (2004 – 2008), Santana’s average season was 17-8, 2.82 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, and a 9.3 K/9. He’d win two Cy Young Awards while amassing a 157 ERA+ and a 3.21 FIP. 

Santana would amass 35.4 out of his 51.4 career WAR during that stretch. 

Now, Santana did accumulate more career WAR, but his period of domination did fall well short of Koufax. 

It’s noteworthy that Koufax and Santana fell short of typical Hall of Fame standards. 

As published on Baseball Reference, the average Hall of Fame pitcher amassed a 73.9 WAR, 50.3 WAR7, and a 62.1 JAWS. Again, Koufax and Santana fall short of this:

  • Koufax 49.0/46.1/47.5
  • Santana 51.4/44.8/48.1

Looking at these numbers, Koufax and Santana are close, really close. Still, there are two major distinctions between the two. 

The first has already been discussed at length with Koufax’s five year peak being better than Santana’s. 

The next is the postseason.  In Koufax’s postseason career, he won two World Series MVP Awards. Overall, he made seven starts and one relief appearance going 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and a 9.6 K/9. 

Conversely, Santana struggled in his 11 postseason appearances (five starts). Overall, he was 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, and an 8.5 K/9. 

No, Santana should’ve be punished for relatively poor postseasons. However, when your numbers fall short, you need something else, like great postseasons, to put you over the top. 

Is that what put Koufax in?  Partially. 

Koufax always had narrative working for him. He didn’t start Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. Koufax would still pitch three games in that series going 2-1 with a 0.38 ERA winning Game 7 with a complete game three hit shutout. He did that on just two days rest. 

Koufax was also brilliant in 1966, winning a Cy Young in his final season. He’d go out on top with voters remembering him at his best. 

Santana left us broken. In his final five starts, he was 0-5 with a 15.63 ERA. He’s spent the past few years trying to get back into baseball. Overall, we remember him broken and a shadow of what he was. 

In the end, Santana was great, and if things broke right, he’d be a Hall of Famer. Sadly, it didn’t happen, and with his peak not being what Koufax’s was, it’s difficult to argue he truly belongs in the Hall of Fame. 

16 thoughts on “Johan Santana Isn’t Koufax Or a Hall of Famer”

  1. Gothamist says:

    Few teams wanted to touch this former Rule 5 players who had a ERA over 6.00
    His injuries were strange to say the least.
    He was traded for a highly suspected PED user in Carlos Gomez.
    I doubt he gets many votes and I bet he gets dropped from the annual vote, kind of quickly.

    I seldom think of him…

    1. metsdaddy says:

      Where does the Gomez PED rumors emanate from? I’ve never heard them before

  2. andrew says:

    Is Satchiel Padge in the Hall of fame? Yes, since in my opinion Johan Santana was just as important to baseball as Koufax, although Koufax got in more or less because he was incredibly popular with one of the best teams of the time (the Los angeles dodgers)

    1. metsdaddy says:

      It’s really REALLY hard to argue Johan was as important as Koufax. I love Johan. I think Koufax is highly overrated, but overall, he’s better.

  3. Five Tool Ownership says:

    Sandy Koufax gave up one earned run in 24 innings in the 1965 World Series.

    He had two complete game shutouts yet the other game in 1965 he gave up two runs, one earned and got the L.

    Koufax in 54 WS innings had an ERA under .95 and rumor has it pitched a complete game shutout on two days rest.

    Johan Santana was better than Bob Gibson, Roy Halladay, Bob Feller, Cy Young, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddox? Possibly

    But few rose to shine in the WS as Sandy Koufax did. A legend to fans of that age and those who read…

    1. Gothamist says:

      Dare to read?

      A mind is a terrible thing to waste….

    2. metsdaddy says:

      Johan was better than none of the pitchers you mentioned.

      Koufax is a legend because people focus on the greatness at the end of his career while ignoring just how poor he was for most of his career.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      Problem is Sandy had more bad seasons than good ones.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      There is absolutely nothing reputable about that site or innuendo.

  4. Brian Petti says:

    I don’t know if Santana belongs in the HOF, but I think your methodology in keeping him out is flawed, especially when it comes to WAR. You say the average HOF pitcher has 73 WAR, but they also average 18 seasons to Santana’s 12. On a per season average, Joe HOFer is worth 4.05 WAR while Santana is worth 4.25–BETTER than the average HOF pitcher, and his total of 51 WAR is better regardless of seasons pitched than 20 current HOFers, including Jack Morris, Lefty Gomez, Catfish Hunter, and Dizzy Dean.

    In fact, Dean is a much more feasible comp than Koufax (whose 5 top seasons are so historically good they are in the debate for best 5 ever, with Martinez, Gibson, Kershaw and Johnson.) In Dean’s 12 seasons, his numbers looked like this:
    42.66 WAR / 150-83 / 3.02 ERA / 3.22 FIP / 1.20 WHIP / 131 ERA+ / SO9 5.3
    to Santana’s:
    51.40 WAR / 139-78 / 3.20 ERA / 3.44 FIP / 1.13 WHIP / 136 ERA+ / SO9 8.8

    Again, I don’t know if this makes Santana a HOFer, but I think it’s a more realistic discussion than comparing him unfavorably to maybe the best 5 consecutive seasons ever pitched. A lot of HOF pitchers never had a run like Koufax’s, and they were not penalized for it.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      Taking your arguments in order:

      1. Longevity counts. Posting an average 4.1 WAR for 18 seasons is a much greater accomplishment than averaging a 4.3 WAR for 12. Think about it, your average Hall of Famer had another half of a career about as good as Santana was for his career.

      2. There is a problem with subscribing to the worst Hall of Famers to justify inducting players. Mistakes have clearly been made inducting certain players. They should be treated as mistakes rather than a new norm because every time you lower the norm, you lessen what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

      3. Dean, like Koufax, is a comp. There are three things that should be noted with Dean.

      First, he has distinctions. He’s only one a few pitchers to win 30 games in a season. He led the league in strikeouts four times. He had three top 2 MVP finishes winning the award once.

      Second, Dean has the 1934 World Series under his belt.

      Third, if Dean falls short of the standards, he shouldn’t be used as a comp to justify the induction of someone similarly not up to standards.

      1. Brian Petti says:

        1. I’ll grant that longevity counts, BUT the HOF cutoff is 10 years played. Ralph Kiner’s 10 years got him into the HOF because they were worthy. If the cutoff is 10 and the player is worthy, I don’t quite understand holding the relative shortness of a player’s career against him. (Again not an argument that Santana is a HOFer, but an argument against his dismissal from consideration.)

        2. By WAR Santana is in the mid-50s of 76 pitchers, hardly the worst.

        3. The comp with Dean was used to contrast with your comp with Koufax. Santana is no Koufax, but neither are a LOT of HOF pitchers. The question I posed is whether Santana is a Dean. I think he’s more than comparable. Santana led the league in K’s three times, ERA three times, WHIP four times, 2 CY Youngs and 6 top 10 finishes. If we *considered* Dean we should at least consider Santana.

        1. metsdaddy says:

          1. Just because the cut-off is 10 years, it doesn’t mean we look at just 10 years. It matters the group he’s looking to join has averaged 18 years, so yes, it should count against him.

          2. No, Santana isn’t the worst, but he’s far from the best.

          3. Actually, Koufax isn’t the pitcher most Hall of Famers were. The short peak and career make him an exception. As for “considering” Santana, I am considering him. After consideration, I decided he’s not HOF worthy.

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