Spin Doctors: Lincecum or Santana? This is a pick only Dave Littlefield could botch

Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana are very close in terms of their Yahoo! ADPs (21.6, 16.7) and their preseason ranks (1, 2). You're probably not going to be disappointed with either starter. None of us are pessimistic about these guys. Two experts discuss the merits of each pitcher below, then a Web poll will settle the issue scientifically...

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Behrens says: If there is such a thing as a reliable fantasy ace, then Santana is it. In each of the past five seasons, he's started 33 games, pitched 215 innings, struck out 200 batters and collected 15-20 wins. His highest single-season ERA as a starter is 3.33; his lowest ERA is last year's 2.53.

But as he enters his age-30 season, there's talk that Santana is in decline. His strikeout-rate last year was his lowest since 2001 (though he still finished with 206 Ks), and his walk-rate was his highest since 2003. These details would concern me if Johan hadn't been so completely dominant in the second half. Over the final two months of the season, the lefty started 12 games, went 7-0, struck out 81 batters in 86.2 innings, and he posted a 1.87 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

If that's what the beginning of the end looks like, then I can live with it.

The Mets outscored the Giants by 159 runs last season, and they've added Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to the bullpen. It's simply a fantastic set-up. Lincecum's supporting cast doesn't compare. Before I'm willing to bump the 24-year-old righty ahead of Santana on my draft board, I'd like to see how he bounces back from last year's epic workload. Lincecum's innings increased by 49.2, he threw the second-most pitches in baseball (3682), and he led all starters in Pitcher Abuse Points by a significant margin.

Both pitchers have ridiculously high ceilings; Lincecum has more risk attached.

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Funston says: In his first full major league season, at age 24, Lincecum finished first among starters in strikeouts (265), third in ERA (2.62), fifth in wins (18), 13th in WHIP (1.17) and first in opponent OPS (.612). Only Oakland’s Dana Eveland allowed fewer home runs among those that pitched at least 160 innings.

Lincecum possesses an exploding mid-90s fastball (sixth-best fastball average among starters in ’08, 94.1 mph) that's made all the more devastating by a deceptive delivery that includes a release point that jumps around. It’s nearly impossible for a hitter to find something to key off of consistently. He also throws a plus hard curve and changeup. When he entered the league, he was considered a fastball, curveball pitcher, but he’s developed the changeup to the point that it is truly devastating, drawing a high percentage of swinging strikes. He threw the changeup five percent more often in ’08 than he did his rookie season, which really speaks to the argument I’m making for Lincecum. He’s still less than 400 innings into his big league career and he’s already captured a Cy Young award. And yet he’s not a finished product. His control is improving – BB/9 rate dropped from 4.00 in '07 to 3.33 in '08 – and he’s still polishing off that change, and he's been tinkering with a slider.

You know what you'll get from Santana, and the unfinished product that is Lincecum has already proven (check the final '08 Yahoo! rankings) that he can be better.


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