Here's the thing: as Bill James said long ago, and as I've often repeated, the worst thing you can do after a championship season is to try to keep the exact same team together. For one thing, it means you're pretending that there are no weaknesses on the team, which is never true. For another, almost all champions get there in part because they have guys who were at least a bit over their heads, and they're going to come down to earth. It's just a terrible idea.
And lo and behold, there you are: twice Sabean tried to keep the exact same team, and twice it ended with a terrible year.
Now, some of it is just how it goes. Keeping Matt Cain and expecting him to be at least fairly good was reasonable. Lincecum? It wasn't nuts to hope for a bounce-back season, although it was an obvious problem spot coming in. And Bumgarner has been OK.
But Vogelsong's collapse isn't really a surprise. He wasn't actually all that good last year -- ERA+ was 105. Yes, that undersells him a bit because it excludes four excellent postseason starts...on the other hand, he was 34, and of course had no history of sustained success.
Which leaves...Zito. Postseason heroics notwithstanding, we're talking about a guy who turned in an 85 ERA+ at age 34, and that was a comeback year. Of course he was bad this year; it would have been a shocker if he was any good.
Did Sabean even know that last year's champs were a great hit, mediocre pitch team? Who knows? China Basin has been playing as an extreme pitcher's park, and you just never know what Sabean picks up on and what he doesn't.
What it comes down to is that the team started the year with two seemingly reliable, although not star, starters; two major question marks; and one guy with little hope of being close to league average. And very little in the way of Plans B, C, and D; there was Chad Gaudin, and then...what?
Now, I don't know what options were available, but they just shouldn't have gone into the season expecting league-average results from that rotation.