Monday, August 27, 2007

Placing Johan Santana into History

Man its a hot one.

Like seven inches from the midday sun

I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone

But you stay so cool

My mu equita my spanish harlem mona lisa

Your my reason for reason

The step in my groove...

-Smooth (Santana featuring Rob Thomas)

Every superhero has their theme music...Every professional wrestler has their entrance song…and Every baseball player has their song when they bat, pitch or come in from the bullpen.

So why does a collaboration by Rob Thomas and super guitarist Santana have a special meaning to me?

Two reasons…a left arm and charisma that could bring peace to the Middle-East.

Johan Santana.

The Metrodome is a teflon covered toilet. Since 1982, it has brought nightmares to players as well as fans. Balls get lost in the off-white ceiling, hit speakers and ricochet 20 feet away from where it was going to land. None of the seats really face home plate (watch or go to a game sometime and notice how the section by the left field foul pole is ALWAYS empty).

All is forgotten on the special days when Santana pitches…

There is a different feeling when you walk into the dome. A confidence, because Johan won’t let the other team sniff home plate. The song “Smooth” is played during Santana’s warm up pitches before the game starts. It’s like associating a pro-wrestler or superhero with their theme music. You hear it and automatically think of that person before you think of who actually wrote the song.

Now, I may be biased on my thoughts on Johan Santana (being from Minnesota myself) but I feel that he may be one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in Major League history. This is a big statement when considering other lefties that have graced the dirt mounds across America. These players range from Sandy Koufax to Steve Carlton to Tom Glavine to Randy Johnson and to the man who has the award for “Best Left-Handed pitcher”, Warren Spahn. There is no doubt that Santana is the best lefty pitcher currently but why not go a little further and compare him as one of the best lefties ever to play the game.

Let’s look at three categories : Strikeouts, Wins and ERA as well as comparing where each pitcher was with each category at Santana’s age (28) and years in the league (8). Future projections are based on whether Santana stays healthy and pitches at the same rate continually.

Strikeouts :

Spahn – 2,583 strikeouts

Koufax – 2,936 strikeouts

Carlton – 4,136 strikeouts

Glavine – 2,556 strikeouts (and counting)

Johnson – 4,616 strikeouts (and counting?)

Santana – 1,344 strikeouts (and counting)

Johnson has the most strikeouts for lefty pitchers in MLB history. If we base greatness on strikeouts alone, then Randy Johnson wins. He’s been pitching since 1988 and is getting close to the end of his career. His size alone puts fear into opposing batters, plus his 96 MPH fastball helps as well. Right now, Johnson could arguably be the best lefty pitcher in MLB history. Johnson needs 16 more wins to reach 300 and 484 strikeouts to reach 5,000. Neither of which are within much reach for Johnson unfortunately because of injuries. But let’s compare where Santana is at this point in his career.

By the age of 28, Randy Johnson had 948 career strikeouts after 5 years in the league. If you use age as a comparison, Santana leads Johnson by 396 strike outs. On the other hand, if you use the years in the league as a comparison, Johnson leads by 285 strike outs. If Santana keeps on pace with his strike outs and plays the same length as Johnson (assuming this is his last year) he will accumulate 3,360 strike outs. This, of course, is hypothetical. Injuries, among many other things, can change these numbers. Assuming that Santana stays healthy, he could make a run at Johnson’s numbers, especially with Johnson’s career coming to an end soon.


To many, wins probably make the most difference between pitchers. A pitcher could strike out 2,500 batters in his career but what does it say if he only had 96 wins? The true sign of a dominating pitcher comes with how many wins he had in his career.

Spahn – 363 wins, 65 by age 28, 122 by 8 years in the league (gaps in years played due to World War 2)

Koufax – 165 wins, 112 by age 28 and 68 by 8 years. (began at age 19 in the league and didn’t put up big numbers until after age 28)

Carlton – 326 wins, 117 by age 28 and 104 by 8 years in the league

Glavine – 301 wins (and counting), 108 by age 28 and 108 by 8th year in the league (most correlative to Santana by age and numbers at this point)

Johnson – 284 wins (and counting?), 56 by age 28, 106 by 8th year in the league.

Santana – 92 wins (and counting), 92 by age 28 and 92 by 8th year in the league.

Even with World War 2, Spahn destroys the win record for lefties. He won games at such amazing rates that it will be hard for any lefty to ever catch him. Glavine is the closest for active players with his 301 wins but he is also 41 years old. He still is behind Carlton who finished with 326 wins. Who knows how many wins Sandy Koufax would have accumulated had Tommy John surgery been around when he was a player. Johnson is close but his degenerative back problems will most likely keep him from ever reaching that goal. Assuming that Santana pitches at the same rate of wins for the next 12 years, Santana would finish with 273 wins. This would put him in good standing in terms of career wins.


A pitcher’s Earned Run Average is something that many look at when comparing stats. Typically, a career ERA under 3.50 is considered pretty special. There are few players in MLB history that have been in the league for more than ten minutes that have a career ERA under maybe 3.05. Let’s look at our lefties again :

Spahn : 3.09 for a 21 year career

Koufax : 2.76 for a 12 year career

Carlton : 3.22 for a 24 year career

Glavine : 3.49 (active statistic)

Johnson : 3.22 (active statistic)

Santana : 3.15 (active statistic)

Koufax’s ERA stands out in this group of pitchers. He only pitched for 12 years, but had he not had elbow problems he may have had many more years of low ERA’s. Over the last 5 years of his career, his ERA averaged 2.38. For a pitcher in any era, those numbers are staggering. Santana at this rate would finish 3rd and possibly 2nd in this list of lefties for career ERA. Santana’s ERA has fluctuated the last 4 years but has been under 2.88 each year.

So let’s get a final look at Santana’s career stats as far as Strikeouts, Wins and ERA:

K’s – 3,360 W’s – 273 ERA – 3.10

With stats like that and not being a concrete starter until 2004, Johan Santana has a great shot at not only Cooperstown but a shot at being considered the most dominant lefty to ever play the game.


Brian said...

It's important to note that guys like Spahn and Koufax pitched in an era where teams used 3 or 4 man rotations and went far deeper into games. For Santana to reach anywhere in the neighborhood of 275 wins would be impressive. Getting to the World Series would virtually cement his status as a hall of famer.

Court said...

Yeah, I completely agree with getting to the WS.

Guys like Koufax and Spahn were definitely in that era where there was no such thing as "pitch counts". It would have been interesting to see a player like Spahn in today's game