By Joe Giglio
» More Columns
If Johan Santana’s last pitch in a New York Mets uniform was his 93rd and final offering to the Washington Nationals’ lineup on August 17, 2012, it’s likely that fans will soon forget the dominant, Hall of Fame caliber pitcher that he once was.
In November 2007, when Omar Minaya outbid the rest of baseball to land the Mets an ace, baseball fans in New York adored the move. While the Yankees wouldn’t part with the necessary young talent to acquire the best pitcher in baseball, the Mets didn’t hesitate.
Santana arrived as a savior from the opening press conference. The six-year, $137.5 million contract was merely a formality for a pitcher who was so dominant in the moment. Despite never possessing a 99 MPH fastball, Santana was great because of a killer changeup and a cerebral approach on the mound.
If his body ever failed him, surely he would be able to outthink hitters and win at a high level.
As we now know, he can’t. Unlike bum elbows — which have become almost nothing more than a speed bump along a pitching career — shoulders are fickle. The repair rate is much lower, and rarely does the pitcher come back the way he once was. Just ask Yankees fans about their newest Triple-A starter, Chien-Ming Wang.
The 46-34 record since 2008 isn’t what Mets fans envisioned. Considering his career ERA in the American League prior to the trade (3.22), it wasn’t crazy to think that he’d top that in the National League. He hasn’t, but has instead provided memorable moments amidst the injuries, pain and surgeries.
Some may label Santana’s tenure, especially when money is taken into account, in New York a bust.
Don’t expect that notion here.
When the (at that time) 28-year-old left-hander arrived in New York, the move was universally praised.
His path to Cooperstown was laid out for Shea Stadium and Citi Field spectators to witness.
Injuries, especially to pitchers, are a part of baseball. While New York may remember Santana for money, injuries and fleeting moments of success, take a minute to check out the back of his baseball card — or since it’s 2013, his Baseball-Reference.com page.
Santana the Met had ups and downs. Santana the Twin was as good as it gets in baseball history.
From age 25-28, the four seasons prior to moving into Flushing, Santana posted a 155+ ERA. In short, he was 55 percent better than league average during his prime years. In the course of baseball history, excluding the dead-ball era, the only pitchers to top that number are Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens.
If you sort that list by strikeouts, you’ll see Santana’s name once again in the Top 10, right behind another injury-plagued lefty: Sandy Koufax.
In fact, the parallels between Koufax and Santana are striking. Both were lefties that didn’t receive their first full shot at a 30-plus start season until age 25. Both dominated as strikeout pitchers, using offspeed pitches to fool hitters. Both dominated the sport throughout their prime.
Now, both seem to be destined for the “what if” question about health and longevity.
Of course, Santana didn’t win a World Series in New York, while Koufax led the Dodgers to the promised land. Although Cooperstown may not come calling for Santana don’t let that cloud your judgement of him. He was everything that the Mets should have gone after following the disappointment of 2007.
Santana may not have been a great Met, but he was an all-time great pitcher.
When Johan Santana was in his prime, where would you rank him on the list of all-time great pitchers? Sound off in the comments section below…