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Cliff Lee and Johan Santana belong in the Hall of Fame

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The (probably former) pitchers don't have the strongest arguments for a bust in Cooperstown; nevertheless, their respective peaks should eventually earn them a spot.

Hopefully, these men will receive immortality someday.
Hopefully, these men will receive immortality someday.
Lee: Howard Smith — USA Today Sports; Santana: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It's gone mostly under the radar, but in the span of about a month, two of our generation's premier players have possibly decided to call it quits. At the end of June, Johan Santana ended his comeback attempt with the Blue Jays after once again dealing with injuries. Although he says he'll try again in 2016, his 37th birthday (which will occur next March) and the fact that he hasn't pitched professionally since 2012 don't offer much hope for that.

Then, a few days ago, Jon Heyman reported this:

Cliff Lee's season is over... There's an outside chance he could try to throw in the winter in hopes of staging a comeback, but people close to him believe it's also very likely he may just hang 'em up.

Thus ends, probably, the stories of two phenomenal pitchers. Or does it?

Around this time of the season — when the legends of years past officially enter the Hall of Fame — I always like to look to the future, to see who might join them eventually. In a just universe, we'd see Santana and Lee receive the call because their play at the highest level warrants it.

Obviously, these two don't have rock-solid cases for entry. If they did, I wouldn't need to file this post under the "Opinion/Editorial" category above. But based on their career numbers, and their similarity to a certain all-time great (whose candidacy few have ever doubted), I'd say they will receive — or should receive — a sizable amount of votes.

*All references to WAR mean FanGraphs WAR

Let's start with aggregate value. Santana has 46.3 career WAR, which ranks 113th all-time (96th percentile); his 54.5 RA9-WAR places him 103rd (97th percentile.) Lee, meanwhile, compiled 48.0 WAR and 45.4 RA9-WAR, coming in 97th (97th percentile) and 162nd (95th percentile), respectively. The top 5 percent of all pitchers, while incredible, doesn't generally garner a Hall of Fame nod, and for good reason: The men in Cooperstown did even better than that.

Below, you'll see a table with the career WAR and RA9-WAR of every enshrined major-league starting pitcher, along with some add-ons who will probably make it before these two do. To this select group, Lee and Santana don't compare too well:

Rank Name RA9-WAR WAR
1 Roger Clemens 141.5 139.4
2 Cy Young 181.2 135
3 Walter Johnson 160.5 123.9
4 Greg Maddux 123.1 114.1
5 Randy Johnson 104.4 110.3
6 Nolan Ryan 89.7 106.9
7 Bert Blyleven 102.2 105.6
8 Gaylord Perry 101.4 104.9
9 Steve Carlton 98.7 103.8
10 Tom Seaver 119.5 98.2
11 Grover Alexander 135.3 98
12 Lefty Grove 114.9 94.5
13 Bob Gibson 96.6 91.7
14 Christy Mathewson 112.8 88.9
15 Don Sutton 91.6 86.6
16 Ferguson Jenkins 86 86.5
17 Pedro Martinez 86.6 85.6
18 Mike Mussina 82.8 82.4
19 Curt Schilling 79.6 81.4
20 Warren Spahn 114.2 81.2
21 Phil Niekro 92 81.1
22 Kid Nichols 128.5 78.5
23 Robin Roberts 92.9 78.3
24 Eddie Plank 96 72.6
25 Jim Bunning 72.8 71
26 John Smoltz 70.8 70.4
27 Juan Marichal 74.8 69.8
28 Bob Feller 87.8 69.2
29 Roy Halladay 71 67.4
30 Don Drysdale 71 66.4
31 Eppa Rixey 72.7 66.2
32 Red Ruffing 78.2 65.5
33 Tom Glavine 88 64.3
34 Pud Galvin 82.4 64.3
35 Tim Keefe 110.5 64.3
36 Ted Lyons 76.5 63
37 Dazzy Vance 69.8 62.8
38 Hal Newhouser 68.1 62.3
39 Early Wynn 69.9 61.9
40 John Clarkson 99.8 61.4
41 Rube Waddell 61.3 60.9
42 Sandy Koufax 60.9 57.9
43 Red Faber 70.7 57.6
44 Whitey Ford 80.8 55.4
45 Stan Coveleski 70.3 55.3
46 Carl Hubbell 88.8 54.1
47 Burleigh Grimes 54.4 53.6
48 Jim Palmer 95.7 53.4
49 Ed Walsh 70.4 52.4
50 Herb Pennock 56.2 50.7
51 Vic Willis 74.3 48.1
52 Cliff Lee 45.4 48
53 Chief Bender 49.7 47.9
54 Waite Hoyt 58.5 47.4
55 Mordecai Brown 70.7 46.9
56 Johan Santana 54.5 46.3
57 Charles Radbourn 92.3 45
58 Rube Marquard 40.6 44.8
59 Amos Rusie 75.4 44.3
60 Lefty Gomez 60.2 41.5
61 Joe McGinnity 63.7 40.3
62 Jack Chesbro 45.3 39.3
63 Dizzy Dean 46.4 38.2
64 Addie Joss 55 37.2
65 Bob Lemon 53.8 35.1
66 Mickey Welch 74.4 34.8
67 Jesse Haines 46.6 34.7
68 Catfish Hunter 57.6 34.3

Excluding those two, the group as a whole averaged 69.9 WAR and 84.4 RA9-WAR — a level of play that Lee and Santana can't match.

But it's lazy to stop there. We'll take this a step further by looking at two measurements of peak value: WAR per 200 innings pitched and seasons of 5+ WAR (along with their RA9-WAR counterparts). These statistics give Lee and Santana's cases a lot more credence:

Rank Name RA9-WAR WAR IP RA9/200 WAR/200 5-RA9 5-WAR
1 Pedro Martinez 86.6 85.6 2,720.0 6.4 6.3 8 9
2 Roger Clemens 141.5 139.4 4,913.2 5.8 5.7 14 13
3 Randy Johnson 104.4 110.3 4,103.0 5.1 5.4 10 10
4 Curt Schilling 79.6 81.4 3,079.1 5.2 5.3 11 6
5 Roy Halladay 71.0 67.4 2,692.2 5.3 5.0 8 8
6 Sandy Koufax 60.9 57.9 2,324.1 5.2 5.0 5 6
7 Lefty Grove 114.9 94.5 3,940.2 5.8 4.8 13 10
8 Bob Gibson 96.6 91.7 3,866.0 5.0 4.7 8 9
9 Mike Mussina 82.8 82.4 3,559.0 4.7 4.6 9 10
10 Johan Santana 54.5 46.3 2,025.2 5.4 4.6 6 4
11 Greg Maddux 123.1 114.1 5,001.0 4.9 4.6 10 12
12 Cliff Lee 45.4 48.0 2,156.2 4.2 4.5 5 6
13 John Smoltz 70.8 70.4 3,211.2 4.4 4.4 8 7
14 Dazzy Vance 69.8 62.8 2,854.1 4.9 4.4 7 7
15 Bert Blyleven 102.2 105.6 4,964.1 4.1 4.3 11 10
16 Walter Johnson 160.5 123.9 5,914.0 5.4 4.2 17 13
17 Hal Newhouser 68.1 62.3 2,944.0 4.6 4.2 6 6
18 Rube Waddell 61.3 60.9 2,928.1 4.2 4.2 5 7
19 Ferguson Jenkins 86.0 86.5 4,267.2 4.0 4.1 8 8
20 Tom Seaver 119.5 98.2 4,779.2 5.0 4.1 13 9
21 Nolan Ryan 89.7 106.9 5,384.1 3.3 4.0 8 9
22 Steve Carlton 98.7 103.8 5,166.1 3.8 4.0 9 9
23 Gaylord Perry 101.4 104.9 5,266.0 3.9 4.0 9 13
24 Juan Marichal 74.8 69.8 3,497.2 4.3 4.0 7 6
25 Don Drysdale 71.0 66.4 3,432.0 4.1 3.9 9 7
26 Dizzy Dean 46.4 38.2 1,967.1 4.7 3.9 6 4
27 Jim Bunning 72.8 71.0 3,707.0 3.9 3.8 7 6
28 Grover Alexander 135.3 98.0 5,190.0 5.2 3.8 15 10
29 Bob Feller 87.8 69.2 3,769.0 4.7 3.7 9 5
30 Christy Mathewson 112.8 88.9 4,747.0 4.8 3.7 11 10
31 Cy Young 181.2 135.0 7,354.2 4.9 3.7 17 18
32 Stan Coveleski 70.3 55.3 3,082.0 4.6 3.6 8 5
33 Ed Walsh 70.4 52.4 2,964.1 4.8 3.5 7 6
34 Whitey Ford 80.8 55.4 3,170.1 5.1 3.5 8 4
35 Robin Roberts 92.9 78.3 4,688.2 4.0 3.3 9 7
36 Lefty Gomez 60.2 41.5 2,503.0 4.8 3.3 6 3
37 Don Sutton 91.6 86.6 5,273.1 3.5 3.3 6 5
38 Addie Joss 55.0 37.2 2,327.0 4.7 3.2 8 2
39 Chief Bender 49.7 47.9 3,016.0 3.3 3.2 3 2
40 Eddie Plank 96.0 72.6 4,495.2 4.3 3.2 10 7
41 Kid Nichols 128.5 78.5 5,056.1 5.1 3.1 13 11
42 Warren Spahn 114.2 81.2 5,243.2 4.4 3.1 14 6
43 Phil Niekro 92.0 81.1 5,245.0 3.5 3.1 7 5
44 Herb Pennock 56.2 50.7 3,220.0 3.5 3.1 4 1
45 Ted Lyons 76.5 63.0 4,138.1 3.7 3.0 9 2
46 Mordecai Brown 70.7 46.9 3,172.1 4.5 3.0 6 3
47 Red Ruffing 78.2 65.5 4,321.0 3.6 3.0 7 2
48 Carl Hubbell 88.8 54.1 3,590.1 4.9 3.0 9 4
49 Red Faber 70.7 57.6 3,894.1 3.6 3.0 3 3
50 Tom Glavine 88.0 64.3 4,413.1 4.0 2.9 8 2
51 Eppa Rixey 72.7 66.2 4,494.2 3.2 2.9 7 4
52 Jim Palmer 95.7 53.4 3,826.0 5.0 2.8 10 3
53 Jack Chesbro 45.3 39.3 2,896.2 3.1 2.7 4 2
54 John Clarkson 99.8 61.4 4,536.1 4.4 2.7 8 5
55 Rube Marquard 40.6 44.8 3,306.2 2.5 2.7 4 1
56 Early Wynn 69.9 61.9 4,508.2 3.1 2.7 7 1
57 Waite Hoyt 58.5 47.4 3,600.0 3.3 2.6 5 1
58 Bob Lemon 53.8 35.1 2,730.2 3.9 2.6 6 1
59 Burleigh Grimes 54.4 53.6 4,154.1 2.6 2.6 4 3
60 Tim Keefe 110.5 64.3 5,047.2 4.4 2.5 9 6
61 Vic Willis 74.3 48.1 3,996.0 3.7 2.4 9 2
62 Amos Rusie 75.4 44.3 3,769.2 4.0 2.4 7 7
63 Joe McGinnity 63.7 40.3 3,441.1 3.7 2.3 6 2
64 Jesse Haines 46.6 34.7 3,113.2 3.0 2.2 3 0
65 Pud Galvin 82.4 64.3 6,003.1 2.7 2.1 8 5
66 Catfish Hunter 57.6 34.3 3,448.1 3.3 2.0 4 3
67 Charles Radbourn 92.3 45.0 4,535.1 4.1 2.0 6 4
68 Mickey Welch 74.4 34.8 4,802.0 3.1 1.4 8 2

And, to top it all off, we'll use a metric that I created (wholly originally) last year. Putting each qualifying season on a per-200 inning basis combines the best of both of the two aforementioned numbers and gives us each pitcher's career total of 5-WAR/200 campaigns. To somewhat different extents, this means of gauging them further approves of Lee and Santana:

Rank Name 5-RA9/200 5-WAR/200
1 Roger Clemens 12 13
2 Randy Johnson 10 10
3 Greg Maddux 10 10
5 Pedro Martinez 7 8
6 Curt Schilling 11 7
7 Bob Gibson 7 6
4 Lefty Grove 12 6
8 Nolan Ryan 3 6
9 Sandy Koufax 5 5
10 Steve Carlton 5 5
11 Roy Halladay 7 5
12 John Smoltz 7 5
13 Mike Mussina 9 5
14 Tom Seaver 9 4
15 Cliff Lee 3 4
16 Bert Blyleven 7 4
17 Bob Feller 5 3
18 Ferguson Jenkins 3 3
19 Jim Bunning 5 3
20 Hal Newhouser 5 3
21 Dazzy Vance 5 3
22 Juan Marichal 5 3
23 Christy Mathewson 8 3
24 Johan Santana 6 3
25 Walter Johnson 11 3
26 Lefty Gomez 5 2
27 Grover Alexander 8 2
28 Whitey Ford 5 2
29 Don Sutton 4 2
30 Gaylord Perry 2 1
31 Phil Niekro 2 1
32 Robin Roberts 4 1
33 Cy Young 10 1
34 Rube Waddell 4 1
35 Warren Spahn 6 1
36 Ted Lyons 6 1
37 Stan Coveleski 5 1
38 Addie Joss 3 0
39 Catfish Hunter 3 0
40 Herb Pennock 3 0
41 Chief Bender 3 0
42 Don Drysdale 3 0
43 Eppa Rixey 3 0
44 Amos Rusie 3 0
45 Mordecai Brown 4 0
46 Early Wynn 4 0
47 John Clarkson 4 0
48 Dizzy Dean 3 0
49 Red Ruffing 5 0
50 Charles Radbourn 3 0
51 Ed Walsh 5 0
52 Jack Chesbro 3 0
53 Mickey Welch 1 0
54 Carl Hubbell 5 0
55 Tim Keefe 6 0
56 Red Faber 2 0
57 Tom Glavine 7 0
58 Bob Lemon 2 0
59 Kid Nichols 7 0
60 Joe McGinnity 2 0
61 Vic Willis 3 0
62 Jim Palmer 8 0
63 Waite Hoyt 1 0
64 Burleigh Grimes 1 0
65 Jesse Haines 1 0
66 Pud Galvin 1 0
67 Eddie Plank 3 0
68 Rube Marquard 0 0

Let's take this one step further. Lee and Santana, perhaps, epitomize the "peak value" argument more than any other players. They played superbly for a period of their careers, but they simply lack the accumulation to ensure that they'll garner the necessary votes. It took them each a while to break out, and injuries cut short their runs of excellence — although those runs were ones for the ages.

Does that last part sound familiar? While it certainly doesn't sync up exactly, it could also apply to Sandy Koufax, who made it to the Hall on his first ballot. Like Lee and Santana, he struggled out of the gate, eventually found his footing, and then rocketed to greatness before plummeting prematurely because of various maladies.

Let's look at the numbers. One of the core arguments for Hall of Fame-worthiness, used by many of the pundits who vote upon it, goes something like this: At some point or another, the player in question had to be the best in baseball. Koufax fits the bill there — from his 1961 breakout to his swan song in 1966, he led the majors with 46.3 WAR and 52.3 RA9-WAR. Did Lee and Santana ever have six-year spans like that?

Well, yeah, they did. Lee won the Cy Young in 2008 and sustained that success until 2013, accruing 37.5 WAR and 37.7 RA9-WAR — both of those tops in the major leagues. Santana became a full-time starter in 2004, in which he, too, took home the Cy Young. He dominated for five-plus years thereafter; the 2004-2009 period saw him rack up 33.9 WAR and 41.8 RA9-WAR, which (shockingly) beat everyone else.

Moreover, the output of the latter two, when made into a rate statistic, matches that of the former:

Pitcher, Years RA9-WAR WAR IP RA9/200 WAR/200
Johan Santana, 2004-2009 41.8 33.9 1313.1 6.4 5.2
Cliff Lee, 2008-2013 37.7 37.5 1333.2 5.7 5.6
Sandy Koufax, 1961-1966 52.3 46.3 1632.2 6.4 5.7

As assessed by RA9-WAR for Santana, and WAR for Lee, their respective zeniths put them on the same echelon as Koufax. If that doesn't stamp their Hall of Fame cases for approval, I don't know what will.

There's no guarantee that Lee and Santana won't come back in the years to come; they could collect some more innings, padding their résumés and giving them the counting stats that many voters like to see. But they shouldn't have to do that to gain admission to the most prestigious institution in baseball. They already best many of the men among the Hall's ranks, and they can go toe-to-toe with one of its more prominent members. Like Randy, Pedro, and Smoltz before them, Cliff and Johan merit a spot in Cooperstown.

. . .

Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot (and on Camden Chat that one time), and about the Brewers on BP Milwaukee. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.