Saturday, January 20, 2018

Johan Santana and the Hall of Fame

Johan Santana was named Friday to the Twins Hall of Fame. He's also on the ballot for the "real" Hall of Fame. but has no realistic chance of election to Cooperstown and is likely "one-and-done."

Which, much as it pains me to say it, is the right decision. Santana spent four-and-a-half years in the Twins rotation; he was, in that span, the most dominant starting pitcher the franchise has had since Walter Johnson in the first quarter of the 20th century. He had one really good year with the Mets, two years in which you can see the durability diminishing, and then the injuries.

Santana hasn't abandoned his hopes of pitching again, but he's 38 and he hasn't pitched, majors or minors, since 2012, which is how he wound up on the ballot.

Let's do some comparisions to two guys often cited by Santana supporters as reasons to induct No. 57:

Pitcher A: 138-78 (.679). 2,025 innings, 136 ERA+, 51.4 bWAR, 1-3 3.97 in postseason.
Pitcher B: 150-83 (.644). 1,967 innings, 131 ERA+, 44/9 bWAR, 2-2, 2.88 in postseason
Pitcher C: 165-87 (.655). 2,324 innings, 131 ERA+, 49.0 bWAR, 4-3, 0.95 in postseason

Santana is Pitcher A, Dizzy Dean is B, Sandy Koufax is C. And yeah, Santana doesn't come off badly in that company. All three had dominant careers truncated by injury.

Where Santana's really at a disadvantage to the two Hall of Famers is the postseason. Dean and Koufax not only put up better numbers in October, they were the dominant figures on World Series winners. Santana never pitched in the Series.

Another, more subtle factor: Dean and Koufax pitched more in their peak years than Santana did, which means they did more to help their teams. Dean had five seasons in which he averaged more than 300 innings. Koufax had three 300-inning seasons; it's no coincidence that those were the three years the Dodgers reach the World Series during his prime. Santana's heaviest workload was 234.1.

And there's the "fame" aspect to it. I'll guarantee you, Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax were much bigger stars than Santana, with much more impact on the culture.

Which leads to this tweet from the great Bill James:

I loved going to the Dome to see Santana pitch, and I treasure those memories. He ain't Dean, and he ain't Koufax.


  1. I don't think there is anything great about Bill James's tweet at all. It's actually kind of stupid. Weight and height do not capture what a Yak and Tiger do or are. The statistics you cite do capture what Santana, Koufax, and Dean did on a baseball field. The fact is Santana is essentially equivalent to Koufax and Dean in their peak years and in their career totals. The argument that Koufax and Dean are more deserving because they were more famous and more appreciated while they played is a lousy argument. Jack Morris was more famous and appreciated than Bert Blyleven. That's the fault of sportswriters and observers, not of Blyleven. Blyleven was a much better pitcher, as the numbers show. The postseason argument has merit in distinguishing Santana from Koufax and Dean, but that is partly that Santana played on worse teams, and in any case regular season performance counts more than a few postseason appearances, and postseason performance cannot be a reason why Koufax should be first ballot HOFer and Santana one and done in Hall of Fame voting, when their regular season performance is essentially equivalent.

  2. I concur exactly with Hugh McTavish's remarks. Santana's numbers are very favorable against two "elite" HOF'rs.

    That Santana did not have performance in WS action is not his fault. Santana did not play on teams with that potential.

    But, number comparisons to Koufax and Dean illustrate just how dominant Santana was.

    Remember, if Koufax had not pitched on two days of rest, the Twins would have three WS Championships!

  3. Umm....
    We do have three World Series Championships. 1987, 1991 and 1924. It's a shame that the team acts as if the franchise started in Minnesota and ignores their time in Washington.
    In 1924 the winning pitcher in game 7 came on in relief with one day of rest after starting game 5. If you want to compare his career stats to Pitchers A,B&C.
    Pitcher D 417-279 (.599) 5,914 innings, 147 ERA+, 165.6 bWAR, 3-3 2.52 in postseason.

  4. Technically correct perhaps. But game history is for fans, who live and die with the team.

    So, I think that 1924 history belongs to Washington DC.

    My opinion then is Minneapolis Laker history also belongs here, and what the Minnesota North Stars did here stays here too.