In 2011, the Giants still had one of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues. They had the second lowest ERA in the National League, just behind the well-publicized Philadelphia Phillies. Barring serious injuries to the pitching staff, this season the Giants may have the best pitching staff in the Majors.
Since AT&T Park is a large baseball stadium with cool damp night air even in July, the baseball doesn't travel well. It makes sense that Sabean would build the Giants around pitching. Although it has been said that good pitching will stop good hitting, if the team doesn't score or field the ball, it won't win many games. This is what cast doubts about the Giants' ability to challenge for the NL West title.
While the Giants depended on superior pitching for their success, they didn't pay attention to having good defense. This led to problems with wary pitchers who had to work harder when their fielders committed errors. In 2011, the Giants had the 10th-best defense in the National League. While they made errors that allowed the opposition to score unearned runs, their limited range also let teams have more hits than they should have had.
The Giants were one of the oldest teams in the Majors in 2011. Even though one of their oldest players has left, they still have an older team. The older players understand how to play the game and provide good clubhouse leadership. However, they are more prone to injuries, and they have diminishing skills. Before the Giants can be a great team for many consecutive years, they need to find younger and more athletic players.
Last year the Giants scored the fewest runs in the National League. Although they had decent power, considering that they play over half of their games in pitcher-friendly stadiums, they had the worst on-base percentage in the league. Whereas an old baseball adage says that pitching wins championships, teams that cannot score don't win many games.
During the offseason, most of the NL West fans looked for the Giants to upgrade their offense, but Sabean hasn't done anything to improve the offense. He didn't seem to attempt to keep Carlos Beltran, a midseason acquisition. He didn't sign any high-profile free agents who could have helped the Giants' anemic offense.
Since AT&T Park opened in 2000, the Giants have drawn well. Money shouldn't have been an issue when they were looking at available free agents, but it appeared to be a huge consideration. Now the Giants must depend on the comeback of Buster Posey and the emergence of Brandon Belt to have satisfactory offensive production. These young players have enormous pressure on them to perform, and no one knows how they will respond to it. It seems unfair to thrust this kind of pressure on any young baseball player, but the Giants have.
Last May, Posey, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, suffered a devastating ankle injury that kept him out of action for the rest of the season. At the time the injury occurred, many people questioned whether Posey could return at full strength to catch every day. Although his rehabilitation has gone well, no one knows if Posey's ankle can hold up for the rigors of catching every day. Many excellent offensive rookies have difficulty duplicating their offensive prowess during their sophomore seasons, and no one knows if Posey will have this problem or not.
Most baseball people think Belt can't miss being an offensive star for many years to come, but in 63 games that he has played with the Giants, he hasn't demonstrated an ability to hit for a high batting average. Although he had nine home runs, his on-base percentage was awful. No one knows if Belt will even make the Opening Day roster. The Giants need a backup plan to provide them with some power.
The Giants are a one-dimensional team, and this doesn't bode well for their chances of returning to the playoffs in 2012. This offseason they needed some changes to make their offense more potent, but they seemed to be more concerned about saving money. In the reasonably weak NL West, on paper, the Giants still appear to be the second-best team, but they probably won't fare well outside their division.