We are going to dig into an aesthetic battle with no correct answer. This is about personal preferences, and it's slathered with recency bias. You are going to choose between the dull pain of 2011 and the dull pain of 2015.
There is no right answer. There is only pain.
Sweet! Okay, so you've probably figured out where this is going. The 2011 Giants were probably one of the best pitching teams you will ever watch. That is not hyperbole. You will be somewhere in 50 years, looking back at the history of Giants baseball, and realize that the '11 Giants were still one of the best collections of pitchers ever assembled. You will also be in a bunker, trying to stay alive during the Third Great Freshwater War, and you will need these memories to forget the utter desolation around you.
Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner started a combined 127 games. Their collective ERA was 2.89, good for an ERA+ around 121. Let's see if we can find a pitcher whose ERA is around 2.89 this year and, oh, here we go, Madison Bumgarner. The 2011 Giants basically had four versions of this year's Madison Bumgarner. Minus the dingers. And the bullpen was filled with wizards, too. There were missteps with Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito, so it wasn't all perfect, but it was a glorious pitching staff.
They scored six runs that season. Once Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez were hurt, the only hitter who deserved to be in a lineup anywhere was Pablo Sandoval. Miguel Tejada's OBP was .270; Aaron Rowand's was .274. The team traded for Carlos Beltran, and he got hurt right as the Giants tumbled out of the race. By the time he came back, it was too late. When they fell out of the race, it was with 2-1 losses and 1-0 humiliations.
But the pitching was a treat.
This year, the Giants have been hitting. I'm kind of proud of them, these guys. Brandon Crawford is a 20-homer shortstop, and Buster Posey is consistently great, even if he's one of the streakier players on the team. The development of Joe Panik and Matt Duffy were both stunning developments, literally. The only player with an adjusted OPS below the league average is Angel Pagan who a) looks healthy and productive now, and b) was replaced by another above-average hitter in Gregor Blanco.
The Giants have scored 20 more runs than the league average, even though they play in a vast expanse of marine-layer madness. They lead the league in on-base percentage.
/spits out pre-lunch cocktail
No joke. The Giants lead the league in OBP, even after the injuries. This has been a fun lineup to watch when healthy, and it's been kinda fun even when a few of the players have been nicked up.
After Madison Bumgarner, though, they haven't had a lot of pitching help. The staff isn't a disaster, mind you, considering they still have an ERA+ of 104, good for seventh in the NL. But their weakness is clearly defined. They'll have one starter with more than 200 innings this year. The rest of them will fall short, and almost all of them will have prevented runs worse than the average starting pitcher. Chris Heston is the lone non-Bumgarner exception, though he's been rough to watch over the last month.
But the lineup has been a treat.
I present to you a hypothetical scenario, then. You are visited by a baseball deity before the season. Call him Paul. And Paul comes to you, in flowing, sticky pine tar robes, and tells you that the Giants are going to win the 2016 World Series. You'll share a chuckle about this and say the words "even" and "year" about 574 times, using them in 574 jokes. But Paul stops laughing and says that this means 2015 is going to be a bummer of a season.
Paul gives you an option: You can watch an all-pitching, no-hit team. Or you can watch an all-hit, no pitching team. There will be myriad injuries, either way. Paul's not the Odd Year project manager, he's just an assistant god, and some things have already been decided. If you choose the all-hit team, there will be at least one great pitcher to look forward to. If you choose the all-pitching team, there will be at least one great hitter to enjoy. Mostly, though, you'll spend the entire season bemoaning the Giants' fate and saying "If they only had _______" over and over again. If they only had hitting, or if they only had pitching.
There's a poll. Skip to the poll if you don't want the taint of my opinion.
Before the season, I would have guessed it would have been a push, that both scenarios would have been equally frustrating. Then this season came along, and we got to experience it first-hand. Wheeeee. But at least I know there's a bit of a difference.
Give me the all-hit/no-pitch team every time. Even if the results are the same (the 2011 Giants and 2015 Giants might even finish with the same record), my enjoyment of the game is noticeably different. Here's what I'm thinking when the 2015 Giants give up runs:
Oh, no. Dang it. Ugh. Well, just have to get those runs back, I guess.
Here's what I was thinking when the 2011 Giants gave up runs:
NO, NO, NO. WELL, THEY CAN'T WIN NOW. THEY CAN'T POSSIBLY SCORE THREE RUNS. THIS GAME IS RUINED. NO, NO, NO.
The all-hit team still leaves you with hope, even in a game where the hitters aren't doing well. The all-pitch team leaves you with despair the instant the pitchers do something wrong. It's far, far less stressful to watch the solid hitting team because it never feels like it's impossible for them to come back.
On the whole, I prefer the 2014 team, really. That 2010 team had a nice balance, really, better than people give it credit for. Oh, and 2012 was a delight in so many ways, can't argue against that pick. But Paul isn't letting you pick one of those teams. Paul's kind of a malcontent, and he has a schedule to keep.
You get to decide in a very important poll. Did you prefer the quick games and occasional shutouts of the 2011 Giants? Or the double-slapping, never-out-of-it Giants of this season?