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.