Is Johan Really the Best Pitcher In Baseball?

Yesterday, in Jeff Passan’s column on Yahoo Sports, he previewed the NL East and was very honest, saying the Mets should have blown up the whole team and started over again before beginning anew in Citi Field.  That’s because choking down the stretch two years running leaves scars on a team’s collective ego.  Yes, that’s an exaggeration, and while I don’t think Omar Minaya made enough moves (yet) to avoid another disappointing season, it’s something else Passan said that caught my attention.  He called Johan Santana the best pitcher in baseball. 


Now, if reading that made me look back at what I just read with my face scrunched up, then maybe it’s worth debating this topic.  Santana, despite having horrid run support and a crappy bullpen in his first season in New York, went 16-7 with a major league-leading 2.53 ERA, and 206 strikeouts and only 63 walks in a career high 234 innings pitched.  But Santana finished third in the NL Cy Young voting, without even taking the AL into account (Cleveland’s Cliff Lee went 22-3 to win the AL award).  Ahead of Santana were the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks.  Lincecum went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA, and (here’s the kicker) 265 strikeouts in 227 innings of work.  Dude has a fastball that has been clocked near 100mph.  Webb went 22-7, which would have been Santana’s record if the bullpen didn’t implode every time Willie Randolph or Jerry Manuel handed someone else the ball. 


But this just begs the question–would you rather have a control pitcher with an above average fastball and sick changeup like Santana, who just gives you the best chance to win every time, or a guy like Lincecum who can potentially strike out 20 batters every time out, and also gives you a great chance to win?  I grew up watching Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, who were mostly flame-throwers that dominated in their prime.  Would I rather have one of them than Santana at the front of my staff right now?  Well, Seaver, yes.  Gooden, only the ’84-’85 version.  Would I rather have Lincecum, who went 18-5 on a Giants’ team that went 72-90?  Right now, I’d have to say yes.  I can’t help it.  I’m infatuated with pitchers who throw smoke and make batters swing and miss with that smoke.  But I’m not a GM, and that’s probably a good thing.  John Maine and Ollie Perez have good fastballs, but not quite like Lincecum’s and probably not even like Santana’s. 


I know some of you are thinking this way, or have thought this way.  You can’t tell me you haven’t pictured Lincecum in a Mets’ uniform before.  Well, have you?