Johan was born on March 13, 1979 in Tovar, Merida, Venezuela and has four brothers and sisters. He played baseball throughout high school in Venezuela and in 1994 was discovered by Andres Reiner, a scout working for the Houston Astros. In 1995, he attended a baseball academy in Guacara, Venezuela. While originally a center fielder, Santana was converted to a pitcher at the academy due to his arm speed. In 1999 he was named the Tovar Mérida Athlete of the Year.
After the 1999 major league season, he was left unprotected by the Houston Astros and eligible in the Rule 5 draft. The Twins had the first pick that year, the Marlins the second. The Twins made a deal with the Marlins: the Twins would draft Jared Camp with their first pick and the Marlins would draft Santana. Santana made his Major League debut with the Twins on April 3, 2000, coming from the bullpen vs. Tampa Bay. He made his first MLB start on April 7, 2000, at Kansas City and recorded his first Major League win in a relief appearance at Houston on June 6. He put up a 6.49 ERA in 86 innings pitched in 2000, his rookie year.
In 2002, the Twins sent Santana to the minors for 2 months to work almost exclusively on perfecting his changeup. He did this for 10 starts and came back up to the majors with a terrific changeup to complement his very good fastball. While in the minors, pitching coach Bobby Cuellar made Santana throw at least one changeup to every batter. According to Cuellar, Santana would sometimes throw 20 in a row during games. Santana was used as a long reliever early in his career after finding little success as a starter. In 2002 he led the majors in wild pitches, with 15. In 2003, Santana transitioned from relief to the Twins’ starting rotation after spending the first four months of the season in the bullpen. He won his last eight decisions and pitched the ALDS opening game against the Yankees.
2004: CY YOUNG
In 2004, Santana became the first pitcher since 1961 to give up four or fewer hits in ten straight starts, and his 13–0 record broke the old Major League second-half mark shared between Burt Hooton and Rick Sutcliffe. Santana’s other second-half numbers were equally impressive: 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.21 ERA, 4.74 hits per nine innings, and 6.73 baserunners per nine innings. In addition, Santana set a team season record with 265 strikeouts, surpassing the old 258 mark registered by Bert Blyleven in 1973. Santana finished in good form with a 20–6 record and led the American League in strikeouts (265), ERA (2.61), strikeouts per nine innings pitched (10.46), WHIP (0.92), batting average allowed (.192), OBP (.249), SLG (.315), and OPS (.564) and walked only 54 batters in 228 innings. Opponents stole just six bases in seven attempts against him, and his 20 victories ranked him second behind only Curt Schilling, who won 21 games for the Red Sox. He easily won the AL Cy Young Award over Schilling with all 28 first-place votes.
Santana struggled in his first outing of 2005, giving up four runs in the first inning, but quickly regained his composure and returned to Cy Young-winning form in an 8–4 victory over the Seattle Mariners. In his second game, he rocked the Chicago White Sox with 11 strikeouts as the Twins won 5–2. Santana finished with an ERA of 2.87, second-lowest in the American League behind Indians pitcher Kevin Millwood (2.86). He threw 238 strikeouts during the season, leading the majors. He finished third in the Cy Young voting, finishing behind winner Bartolo Colón of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera.
2006: CY YOUNG
Santana won the Major League Pitching Triple Crown. He completed the season leading the majors in ERA (2.77) and strikeouts (245), and tied Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang in wins (19). He is the first pitcher to win the triple crown with fewer than 20 wins, and the first to win the MLB triple crown with an ERA above 2.60. Santana also led the American League in WHIP (1.00), opposing batting average (.216), and innings pitched (233.2). He continued to add to his reputation as a great second-half pitcher, losing only one game after the All-Star break while winning 10 and posting a 2.54 ERA. A brief slump cost him the opportunity to make his 20th win of the season. No pitcher in Major League Baseball won 20 games in the 2006 season, the first time in modern major league history this occurred. Santana won his second Cy Young Award in 2006, becoming the 14th player in MLB history to win the award multiple times. He is the fifth pitcher to win the award by a unanimous vote twice, joining Roger Clemens, Pedro Martínez, and Greg Maddux; Sandy Koufax accomplished the feat three times. From 2004 to 2006, Santana led the league in strikeouts all three years, in ERA twice, and also led in several other key statistical areas. In this three-year span, he compiled a 55–19 record with an ERA of 2.75 and WHIP of 0.96, while striking out 748 batters.
After a slow start, with his record falling to 6–6 at one point, Johan jump-started his 2007 season with a four-hit shutout, followed by two wins. On July 1, 2007, Santana was named as a member of the 2007 MLB All-Star Game, his third straight appearance. On June 19, 2007, on the team bus to a game at Shea Stadium, Bert Blyleven said he would have his head shaved if that night’s starting pitcher, Johan, threw a complete-game shutout. The Twins won, 9–0, and Santana went the distance on a four-hitter. Santana shaved Blyleven’s head the following day. Santana had perhaps his best career game on August 19 against the Texas Rangers in which he struck out 17 batters over eight innings. He walked none and allowed only two hits, both to Sammy Sosa. His 17 strikeouts set a Twins club record for strikeouts in a game. While Santana did not have a bad season, he led the major leagues in home runs allowed (33) and had the most losses of his career (13). Santana finished the season with only 15 wins, his lowest total since 2003. However, Santana led the American League in WHIP, was 2nd in strikeouts with 235, and 7th in ERA. On the last game of the season, a rain delay in Detroit that lasted over an hour caused Santana to pitch only three innings. This ended a 123 consecutive start streak in which he pitched five innings or more. This is the third longest consecutive-game streak for a pitcher in the past half century. In November 2007, it was announced that Johan Santana was awarded the American League Gold Glove Award for pitcher. This was the first time he was selected for this award. He was also honored with a Fielding Bible Award as the best fielding pitcher in MLB.
2008: NEW YORK METS
During 2007–2008 off-season, Santana was traded from the Twins to the New York Mets, for Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey. On February 1, 2008, the Mets and Santana agreed to a six-year, $137.5 million contract. Santana was named the opening day starter, throwing 100 pitches in seven innings to earn the win against the Florida Marlins. On May 10, 2008, he earned his first win at Shea Stadium as a member of the New York Mets. On June 1, 2008, Santana earned his 100th career victory, going 7.2 innings and allowing just one run in a 6–1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. On July 27, the day after the Mets played a 14-inning game where every pitcher in the bullpen was used, Johan pitched a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He struck out 5 and also got his first RBI as a Met. He won this game, improving his record to 9–7. On August 17, 2008 Santana pitched his second complete game and his 11th win of the season, allowing only 3 hits while walking none and striking out 7 in a 3–0 Mets win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. On September 23, Santana threw a career-high 125 pitches in 8 innings to beat the Chicago Cubs. On September 27, in the thick of a playoff race and on the final weekend of the season, Santana pitched a complete game 3-hit shutout in a 2–0 win against the Florida Marlins on three-days rest. It was later revealed that Santana had pitched that day, and perhaps in many other starts, with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He underwent successful surgery on it on October 1, 2008. Santana finished the 2008 regular season with a 16–7 record, posting a 2.53 ERA with 206 strikeouts, which set a Mets’ single-season record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher, besting Jon Matlack’s 205 in 1973. His 2.53 ERA led the majors and was a career best. He also set a career high in innings pitched and was undefeated in the second half of the season. Santana finished in third place in the National League Cy Young award race behind Brandon Webb and winner Tim Lincecum.
On April 7, 2009, Johan Santana started the first game for the New York Mets in the 2009 season against the Cincinnati Reds. He went 5.2 innings allowing only 1 earned run, going on to win. In his second start on April 12 against the Florida Marlins, Santana struck out 13 batters and surrendered 2 unearned runs over 7 innings only to lose for the first time since June 28, 2008, against the New York Yankees. On August 25 Santana was placed on the 15-Day Disabled List and missed the remainder of the season after having to undergo season ending arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. Santana finished the season at a record of 13–9 with a 3.13 ERA. In 2009 he was named # 3 on the Sporting News’ list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball. A panel of 100 baseball people, many of them members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and winners of major baseball awards, was polled to arrive at the list.
2010 & 2011: INJURY
In a start on May 2, 2010 against Philadelphia, Santana gave up 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings, the worst start in his MLB career. However, in the next 5 starts after that, Santana gave up only 7 earned runs, striking out 21 and improving his record to 4–2 with a 3.03 ERA. Santana hit his first major league home run off of Matt Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds on July 6, finishing the game with a complete game shutout. From July 1-July 23, Santana was 3–0 with a 0.71 ERA in five starts. Santana, who was struggling to keep his 10–9 through September 2, strained his pectoral muscle in a 65-pitch start versus Atlanta, for the second time in his career. Santana had surgery for his shoulder on September 14 and ended his season with a record of 11–9 and an ERA of 2.98. This is the 3rd consecutive year that Johan had gotten injured. Johan missed the 2011 season due to aftermath of the shoulder surgery and is expected to return for the 2012 season.
2012: COMEBACK & NO-HITTER
As a Major League Pitcher, Johan Santana has shattered records. He has won 2 Cy Young Awards (2004 & 2006), The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year (2004, 2006), Player’s Choice Outstanding Pitcher (2004, 2006), Warren Spahn Award (2004, 2006), Luis Aparicio Award (2004, 2006), MLB Triple Crown – Pitching (2006), Fielding Bible Award (2007), a Rawlings Gold Glove (2007), Sports Illustrated MLB All-Decade Team (2009), and made 4 appearances in MLB’s All-Star Game (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009).
OFF THE FIELD
Johan is married to Yasmile Santana and they are the proud parents of three beautiful children. In April 2010, Johan Santana and his wife, Yasmile, established a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity in the United States, the Johan Santana Foundation. The mission of the Foundation in the United States will expand the footprint set by the Santanas’ Foundation in Venezuela while incorporating prior work undertaken by Johan in conjunction with the Minnesota Twins, including skin cancer awareness (with a special focus on melanoma) and the health and wellness of children in the United States and South America.