Monday, June 04, 2012

Johan Santana's no-hitter is a good reminder that he's awesome

As just about all of you already know, Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets history this past Friday. It was also the first no-hitter of Santana's excellent career. While no longer considered one of the ace pitchers in the game, Santana has been fantastic in his comeback this year. He only has three wins because of the sometimes-anemic Met offense, which had, until Friday's gem allowed Santana to fly somewhat under the radar, he now has a 2.38 ERA (6th in NL), 68 strikeouts (8th), a 1.029 WHIP (8th), and is the only pitcher in the majors with two complete games. He ranks tied for fifth (with fellow Met R.A. Dickey) in Baseball-Reference's WAR calculation.

Johan Santana (Credit: slgckgc)
Perhaps it's hard to imagine because of all the other stuff that went on around him during his time in Queens, but the trade for Santana may have been the best the Mets have ever made. Compare Santana, with a 2.80 ERA (144 ERA+) in 668 innings, giving him a 16.4 WAR, to David Cone, with his 3.13 ERA (113 ERA+) in 1209.1 innings, good for a 9.6 WAR. The theft of Cone from the Royals was cited by the MLB Network's Prime Nine program (not necessarily a bastion of objective analysis, but certainly an idea of the general consensus) as the 8th most lopsided trade in all of baseball history. Objectively, the Santana trade was better for the Mets.

Of course, we don't always consider these things objectively. The Mets were an elite team when Cone pitched for them, and Cone was a workhorse, pitching 200+ innings in each of the years he was in the rotation. Meanwhile, Santana got a huge contract and spent a bit of time on the disabled list, during a time when lots of Mets signed big contracts and spent time on the disabled list. It seemed like he was viewed as part of the problem more than part of the solution, which was unfair - it wasn't Santana's fault that Jason Bay broke down.

With a WAR over 50.0, two Cy Young Awards, and now a no-hitter, Santana may very well be the most difficult decision for the Hall of Fame of any active player. With only 136 wins and only two with more than 16, he doesn't have the traditional statistics voters tend to look for, so it's my guess that he won't get in. Still, no eligible player with two Cy Young awards has ever missed out on the Hall. It's hard to imagine Santana having enough left in the tank to get the 64 wins he'd need to reach 200, but it was also hard to imagine Santana carrying a 2.38 ERA through two months of the season. 

With that in mind, since he doesn't have the traditional stats, and HOF voters are far behind season-award voters when it comes to advanced stats, it's going to take a great narrative to get Santana into the Hall. With a no-hitter as part of a season that sees the Mets, improbably, in first place two months into the season, maybe he's getting that chance.

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