Thus far, Santana has thrown only 2,025 2/3 innings over the course of his 12-year major league career (2000-2010, 2012) with the Twins and Mets, with the first three of those years totaling only 238 innings. Only in seven of those seasons did he throw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. That’s an extremely small workload for a Hall of Fame pitcher; only three of the five enshrined relievers (Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Rich Gossage) and one starter (Dizzy Dean) threw fewer total innings. Even Addie Joss and Sandy Koufax — two standouts whose careers were extinguished in their primes, the former by death due to meningitis in 1911, the latter by elbow woes in 1966 — had roughly 300 more innings pitched during their brief careers, and reliever Hoyt Wilhelm racked up about 200 more during his lengthy one.
...What if Santana had won a third Cy Young? Along with winning the trophy in both 2004 (20-6, 2.61 ERA, 265 strikeouts, 8.6 WAR) and 2006 (19-6, 2.77 ERA, 245 strikeouts, 7.5 WAR) — years in which he led the league in both ERA and K’s — he recorded a season that was nearly as strong in 2005 (16-7, 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts, 7.2 WAR). In terms of everything besides won-loss record, he outdid winner Bartolo Colon (21-8, 3.48 ERA, 157 strikeouts, 4.0 WAR), and he was far more valuable than runner-up Mariano Rivera (43 saves, 1.38 ERA, 4.0 WAR) as well. By the time the dust settles, none of the eight three-time Cy Young winners (Clemens, Johnson, Steve Carlton, Maddux, Koufax, Martinez, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver) is likely to land outside the Hall; had voting justice been done in 2005, Santana would have stood out as the exception there, though if one wants to nitpick each of those winners’ cases on a pure WAR basis, the picture might change significantly.
If Santana can’t make it back from this shoulder injury, he’ll likely remain outside Cooperstown, but there’s no shame in that. He has had a great career, and he’ll be remembered as one of the dominant pitchers of a high-scoring era. His battle back from his 2010 shoulder injury, which reached its apex with his no-hitter last June, was memorable and inspiring; watching it myself, I found it impossible not to get choked up, or to enjoy the revelry in a bar full of Mets fans handing out free shots in his honor.