Though Johan Santana has expressed a desire to continue his playing career after recently finding out he had re-torn the anterior capsule muscle in his left shoulder, one can’t help but reflect on his great 12-year career with the Twins and Mets. Jay Jaffe did just that at Sports Illustrated, concluding that the Hall of Fame case for the lefty isn’t that strong.
Turning to the advanced metrics to compare Santana’s case against the starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame using Baseball-Reference.com’s version of Wins Above Replacement and my own Jaffe WAR Score (JAWS) system (explained here), we can get a better sense of the impact of his short career.
Santana has compiled 49.1 WAR for his career, and 43.1 for his peak (his best seven seasons), for an overall JAWS of 46.1. The average starting pitcher in the Hall has compiled 68.1 WAR for his career, and 47.7 for his peak, for an overall JAWS of 57.9. In other words, Santana is well short measured against all three standards.
Sandy Koufax will likely be the name most closely associated to Santana if he never pitches another inning, as Koufax has a similar career adjusted ERA (131 to Santana’s 136) and career workload (2,324 innings to Santana’s 2,025). Jaffe notes, however, that Koufax had much more success in the post-season and has an additional Cy Young and an MVP award on his mantle.
It will be interesting to see where the consensus among the Baseball Writers Association of America arrives, whether it’s in five years or longer when Santana hangs up the spikes for good.
Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.
As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.
Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”
Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012. He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.
The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.