4. Johan Santana – 2008
When the Mets traded for Santana before the 2008 season, it was one of the biggest blockbuster acquisitions in franchise history. In his first season with the orange and blue, the two-time Cy Young winner nearly added another trophy to his case, finishing third in NL Cy Young voting behind Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb.
If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, the race gets even tighter. Santana led the NL with a 2.53 ERA, which was nearly a tenth of a run better than the eventual winner Lincecum (2.62) and over three quarters of a run better than the second-place finisher Webb (3.30). Santana also racked up 7.1 WAR (per Baseball Reference), which far exceeded the 5.6 bWAR that Webb put up.
Maybe WAR isn’t your scene. Fine. But Santana also led the NL in innings (234 1/3), had a lower WHIP (1.148) than Lincecum (1.172) and Webb (1.148), averaged fewer walks per nine innings (2.42) than Lincecum (3.33) and Webb (2.58), and finished higher in the MVP race (14th) than Lincecum (23rd) and Webb (17th).
Of course, there are myriad stats out there to rank pitchers by, so Santana’s case here is not a complete runaway. But I have a feeling that in the context of 2008 voters, Santana having fewer wins (16) than Lincecum (18) and Webb (22) cost him some votes. In today’s voting climate, his win total would have mattered far less, and he might have won his third Cy Young.