Baseball BeatSeptember 18, 2006
By Rich Lederer

Johan Santana currently leads all pitchers in ERA (2.77), wins (18), and strikeouts (237). If the 2004 Cy Young Award winner can maintain his position, he will be the first pitcher in over 20 years to capture the Major League Triple Crown. The last MLB Triple Crown winner? Dwight Gooden in 1985 for the New York Mets when he racked up 24 victories and 268 Ks along with the lowest single-season ERA (1.53) since 1968.

Randy Johnson was the last pitcher to lead his league in all three categories. The Big Unit struck out 334 batters while winning 24 games and fashioning a 2.32 ERA for Arizona in 2002. The American League's most recent Triple Crown winner was Pedro Martinez (2.07, 23, 313) of the Boston Red Sox in 1999.

There have been only seven pitchers (covering 12 different seasons) who have won MLB's Triple Crown of pitching.


Year Pitcher            Team        ERA     W     SO
1913 Walter Johnson     WAS (AL)   1.09    36    243 
1915 Grover Alexander   PHI (NL)   1.22    31    241 
1917 Grover Alexander   PHI (NL)   1.86    30    201 
1918 Walter Johnson     WAS (AL)   1.27    23    162 
1924 Dazzy Vance        BRO (NL)   2.16    28    262 
1930 Lefty Grove        PHI (AL)   2.54    28    209 
1931 Lefty Grove        PHI (AL)   2.06    31    175 
1945 Hal Newhouser      DET (AL)   1.81    25    212 
1963 Sandy Koufax       LAD (NL)   1.88    25    306 
1965 Sandy Koufax       LAD (NL)   2.04    26    382 
1966 Sandy Koufax       LAD (NL)   1.73    27    317 
1985 Dwight Gooden      NYM (NL)   1.53    24    268

As shown, Sandy Koufax performed this feat a record three times. Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Lefty Grove have two MLB Triple Crowns to their credit. Of note, Alexander led the N.L. in all three areas four times, including three consecutive seasons (1915-17).

Interestingly, five of the above pitchers also won their league's Most Valuable Player award - Johnson (1913), Dazzy Vance (1924), Grove (1931), Hal Newhouser (1945), and Koufax (1963). No N.L. MVP was named in Alexander's Triple Crown seasons and no A.L. award was presented in 1918.

The number of MVPs should bode well for Santana's chances. The operative word here is "should." The reality is that Johan will find it difficult to garner enough support among writers to finish first, irrespective of whether he leads the majors in wins, ERA, and Ks, much less WHIP (0.98), W-L % (.783), K/9 (9.67), and K/100P (7.27). Unfortunately, too many voters will either undervalue his contributions or leave him off their ballot because he doesn't play everyday. For validation, look no further than the fact that Roger Clemens (1986) is the only starting pitcher in the past 37 years to win the MVP award. I mean, when Willie McGee beats out Gooden in 1985 in a landslide, you know the odds are stacked in favor of position players and against pitchers.

The Twins are 26-6 in Santana's 32 starts. Minnesota is 62-55 in the games in which its ace hasn't pitched (including 11-5 when fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano has started). I would argue that Santana has been more valuable than teammates Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and deserves to be given serious consideration for the A.L. MVP.

Topping the big leagues in ERA, wins, and Ks isn't quite as rare as leading in batting average, HR, and RBI but it is an impressive feat nonetheless. The fact that wins and RBI are team dependent may reduce the significance of the Triple Crown of pitching and batting in the eyes of modern-day statheads for sure. That said, I place credence on almost any list that produces such revered names as those who have led both leagues in the Triple Crown categories.


Year Batter             Team        AVG    HR    RBI  
1909 Ty Cobb            DET (AL)   .377     9    107 
1925 Rogers Hornsby     STL (NL)   .403    39    143 
1934 Lou Gehrig         NYY (AL)   .363    49    165 
1942 Ted Williams       BOS (AL)   .356    36    137 
1956 Mickey Mantle      NYY (AL)   .353    52    130 

If nothing else, Santana will join a rather exclusive group of pitchers who have won multiple Cy Young Awards. The list includes Roger Clemens (7); Randy Johnson (5); Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux (4 each); Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, and Tom Seaver (3 each); Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Denny McLain, Gaylord Perry, and Bret Saberhagen (2 each). Winning a third CYA down the road would elevate Santana into a group that ranks among the top 15 or 20 pitchers in the history of the game.

But first things first. It may not be Smooth when it comes down to the actual voting but Santana ranks as this year's #1 hit single in the A.L. in my book.


There is absolutely no doubt that starting pitching is the most undervalued commodity in baseball. Every metric that is related to baseball whether it be win shares or the randomness of mvp voting does not give starting pitching its justice. A starter like Santana or Roy Halliday guarantees their team at least 20 wins a season by sustaining an era a run to a run and 1/2 coupled with 20+ quality starts. There is no positional player alive that can deliver 20+ wins every season.

I don't know what is more scary: just how dominating Santana is or that it's been TWENTY years since Doc Gooden was in his prime!

It appears that the oldtimers must have checked out other metrics besides triple crowns as Cobb,Gehrig and Williams did not win the MVP for those years.

Of course, Santana should have won the Cy Young last year as well, for what it's worth.

Anyone that pitches so good that he dominates the majors in a way that's only been done 12 times before him, deserves to be a top notch candidate for MVP. I don't care if they play daily or play 25 games. Anyone who pitches like ONLY 7 pitches ever have...deserves to be thought of as worthy of being called Most Valuable Player. Anyone who gives his team a huge change in winning percentage just because he starts the game...deserves a solid shot at being MVP. That's just rare.

PS. interesting that most of the hitters who've won the MLB triple crown, played in the AL...before the DH.

Santana is definately the most viable HOF pitcher candidate of his generation.....