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New York Mets History

Mets royalty Johan Santana should be in the Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01: Johan Santana #57 of the New York Mets is interviewed after pitching a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on June 1, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. It was the first no-hitter in Mets history. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 8-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01: Johan Santana #57 of the New York Mets is interviewed after pitching a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on June 1, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. It was the first no-hitter in Mets history. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 8-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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With a strikeout of David Freese on June 1, 2012, Johan Santana cemented himself into New York Mets history when he threw the franchise’s very first no-hitter. It was a moment 50 years in the making for an organization that had always had great pitching but never could get that elusive no-no.

In that moment, “No-Han” became a Mets legend. Even though he, for the most part, was only productive during the first half of his six-year contract, he will always have a special place in Mets history.

Santana only made 10 more starts in the big leagues following his no-hitter, all in 2012, before injuries claimed the rest of his career at the age of 33.

Santana made it onto the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot but received just 10 of the 422 possible votes, amounting to 2.4% and falling off the ballot. At the very least he shouldn’t have been a one-and-done candidate, receiving the same number of votes as Jamie Moyer.

At the most, there’s an argument made for Santana to have a plaque in Cooperstown, even if it’s not with a Mets logo on his cap.

It’s a tough argument, seeing as he only spent parts of 12 seasons in the major leagues. Even at that point, he didn’t break 100 innings pitched in two of them. In his prime though, he was nothing short of the best pitcher in the league.

That’s not even hyperbole — the stats back it up.

Santana really became a full-time starter in 2004 with the Minnesota Twins, and he was so dominant he won the AL Cy Young Award with a 2.61 ERA and MLB-best 182 ERA+. Over the following six seasons, three with the Twins and three with the Mets, he established himself as one of the dominant forces in the game.

In that seven-year peak, Santana had a 2.87 ERA, 151 ERA+ and 1,749 strikeouts over 1512.1 innings pitched. He won two Cy Young Awards, placed in the top-3 three twice and in the top-5 one more time. In his second Cy Young season, he won the Triple Crown. He won three ERA titles, made four All-Star teams and even turned his glove into gold.

Per Stathead, there were just four pitchers from 2004-10 who had a better ERA and ERA+ than Santana. Of those four, three of them had a combined 23. The fourth was Roger Clemens, and even then he made less than half as many starts.

Santana’s 2.87 ERA and 151 ERA+ really was second-to-none. Over those seven years, he put up better numbers than many other greats, most notably Roy Halladay, who was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2019. Santana’s and Halladay’s peaks overlapped, with Halladay putting up a 3.02 ERA and 146 ERA+ from 2004-10.

Yes, Halladay’s was longer, as he had a couple of great seasons before 2004 and one after 2010. With that said, Santana’s peak was just as good if not better.

Felix Hernandez is another really good comparison. The King should be a sure-fire Hall of Famer after his years of complete dominance in Seattle. Really though, his peak wasn’t that much longer than Santana’s. Hernandez’s seven-year peak was very comparable, putting up a 2.82 ERA and 138 ERA+ over 1,595 innings. King Felix just has a couple more seasons before and after that peak that are frankly either average or below that.

Perhaps the best comparison though is one of the all-time greats, an undisputed Hall-of-Famer and fellow southpaw: Sandy Koufax. Don’t get me wrong, Santana was not better than Koufax, but both of their peaks were so brief and their careers as a whole were so much shorter than most of the greats.

Both Koufax and Santana spent parts of 12 seasons in the majors but didn’t eclipse 100 innings in either of the first two. Both of them had a solid first couple of years where they were partially used as a starter but didn’t have that role full-time, and then lightning struck.

Koufax had an utterly dominant final six years of his career and made the Hall of Fame pretty much solely on the strength of those seasons. Per Stathead, from 1961-66, Koufax had the best ERA and ERA+ in the league of any pitcher who made a substantial amount of starts, just like Santana from 2004-10.

Santana isn’t Koufax, but both of them had periods of absolute dominance cut short early due to injury. Koufax is in the Hall of Fame, Santana fell off the ballot his first year.

When Santana was at his peak, there quite literally was no one better. Yes, his peak didn’t last quite as long as other starters, but he was just as if not more dominant than the other greats of his era.

At the end of the day, it’s the argument of what matters more when it comes down to making the Hall of Fame: Longevity or greatness. Which starting pitcher is more deserving, one who was very good for a long time, or one who was the best there was for a shorter time.

Ultimately, there’s a place for both. Santana, like Koufax, falls into the latter category.

Next. Matt Harvey's best moments with the Mets

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No-Han’s greatness went unsung when it came time to recognize it, and hopefully one day, the Veterans Committee will correct that mistake.

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