Johan Santana undeservedly drops off Hall of Fame ballot

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The 2018 Hall of Fame voting results were just announced. The big news, of course, was that Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman were elected. An under-the-radar piece of news: former Twins and Mets pitcher Johan Santana received only 2.4 percent of the vote, pushing him off of the Hall of Fame ballot for good. He can be elected at a later time through the veterans committee, but BBWAA voting was his best chance.

Santana’s career, unfortunately, was much shorter than anticipated. He had a great 2010 season but underwent shoulder surgery in early September to repair a torn anterior capsule, ending his season sooner than anticipated. He missed the entire 2011 season and didn’t return until 2012. He threw a no-hitter on June 1 against the Cardinals, but otherwise struggled. The lefty battled an ankle injury as well as a back issue. Santana tore his shoulder capsule for a second time in 2013, requiring surgery. In 2014, he tore his Achilles tendon while in extended spring training with the Orioles. In 2015, rehabbing his shoulder with the Blue Jays, Santana suffered a toe infection. He tried again to return to the majors in 2016, but it didn’t happen.

Ultimately, Santana pitched 12 seasons in the majors, winning 139 games with a 3.20 ERA, and 1,988 strikeouts in 2,025 2/3 innings. He won two Cy Young Awards in in 2004 and ’06 with the Twins, earned the ERA title three times (’04, ’06, and ’08), and made the All-Star team four times. Among starters who threw at least 500 innings between 2002-10, Santana had the lowest ERA at 2.89. Adam Wainwright was the only other pitcher below 3.00 at 2.93. Santana was the best pitcher of his generation.

It’s understandable why Santana didn’t get much support, but his career is very similar to Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Koufax also pitched 12 seasons in the majors, retiring after the 1966 season due to arthritis. Santana had a better ERA+ — ERA adjusted for league and park factors — with a 136 mark to Koufax’s 131. They were also close in regular season wins with Santana earning 139 to Koufax’s 165. Other notable achievements:

Santana Koufax
Seasons 12 12
Innings 2,025 2/3 2,324 1/3
ERA+ 136 131
Wins 139 165
Cy Youngs 2 3
All-Star 4 7
ERA titles 3 5
Triple Crowns 1 3
No-hitters 1 4

Koufax also won the World Series three times and had a career 0.95 ERA in eight playoff appearances; Santana never reached the World Series and had a 3.95 ERA in the postseason. Koufax was the better pitcher, of course, but not by much.

Koufax was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year on the ballot, with 86.9 percent of the vote, higher than anyone else that year. That’s a stark departure from Santana’s support of 2.4 percent. Given the very similar paths their careers took, it’s a shame that Santana won’t get any more consideration for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.