The great Joe Posnanski, in a very worthwhile piece "in praise of wins (sort of)", gives us this thought-provoking analogy:
Hey, you know what wins are like to me? I just thought of this, so the analogy might not work but I'm going with it: Maybe pitcher wins are like how much a money a movie grosses worldwide. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has grossed more than a billion dollars. That's interesting. A conversation starter. Does that prove it's a great movie? A good movie? Did it earn that much money because the acting was great, because the writing was sublime, because the direction and editing was brilliant, because the special effects and lighting and sound were remarkable, because it was a gutsy movie that competed every step of the way? Maybe. It's also possible that it grossed that much because the Harry Potter franchise — from the books to the movies to the theme park to everything — is so awesome. It's possible that it has made that much money for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do at all with the specific quality of the movie.
Personally, I didn't like this Harry Potter. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong — I thought it deviated from the book too much and I thought it butchered my favorite scene in the entire Harry Potter book series. But that's beside the point. If you tell me Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is better than, say, The Godfather or Annie Hall or The Terminator because it made a lot more money, well, I would throw the flag and penalize you 15 yards for Misleading Logic. Sure I want to know how much money a movie grossed because I think it's interesting. Just don't try to make it mean more than it means.
As Joe says, it may not be a perfect analogy, but it is intriguing. Box office gross certainly tells you something about a film's quality/success, but it could mean so many different things depending on many, many factors. Pitcher wins are very similar in that they can mean many different things depending on how that year played out (team quality, run support, opponent quality, etc.). But does Posnanski's analogy hold up to a cursory glance? I've compiled a few of the more interesting pitcher-win seasons in recent memory and attempted to match them up to box office successes from that same year. Let's see how I did:
Roy Halladay, 2010, 21-10
Toy Story 3 – The feel-good story of 2010. Halladay was nearly flawless, with a May perfect game and a postseason no-hitter. But is Toy Story too sweet for Halladay? Would it be better to call Halladay's 2010 that year's Inception? It was the smart movie that people kept spending money on to see all summer. I think Inception makes the better analogy, even if Toy Story 3 was the better movie.
Scott Feldman, 2009, 17-8
Feldman didn't lead the league in wins in 2009 (Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, & Justin Verlander were tied with that honor at 19), but he was awfully close with a rather mediocre season otherwise. There's a lot of crap to choose from in 2009, so Feldman could either be Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or New Moon (The Twilight Saga). Neither should require much explanation.
Felix Hernandez, 2009, 19-5
As I said, there really was a lot of crap to choose from at the top of the box office charts for 2009. Avatar topped everything, but, honestly, that wasn't a very good movie. Same for Transformers and New Moon. There were some good movies in Star Trek, The Hangover, and Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, but nothing outstanding. None can come even close to matching King Felix's season. Pixar's Up may be the best bet, but even that was only a "B+" movie after the first 10 minutes or so.
Cliff Lee, 2008, 22-3
A well-deserved award for a superb season. The Dark Knight and Iron Man were the two highest-grossing films of 2008 and both could be used to describe Lee's 2008. If I had to pick one, I would go with Iron Man due to the surprise nature of both the movie and Lee's season.
Brandon Webb, 2008, 22-7
This is much tougher than matching Cliff Lee to Iron Man or The Dark Knight. Webb had a nice season in 2008, but nowhere near the level of Lee, even if they did end up with the same number of wins. That said, Webb's season probably wasn't as bad as the next two films on the list, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Hancock. Both of those films had their moments, but they just aren't good enough to match Webb's season. WALL-E is next on the list, but, again, that's probably too good of a movie. Where does that leave us? Kung Fu Panda? Quantum of Solace? With those choices, I might end up calling it for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, though someone might be able to persuade me to the Kung Fu Panda cause.
Barry Zito, 2002, 23-5
This is a tough one. Since Zito signed that ridiculous contract with the Giants, he's been mediocre at best and that seems to color our view of his 2002 season. However, Zito did actually have a really good year in 2002 and may very well have been the best pitcher in the American League that year (even if his curveball and strikeout rates made it unsustainable in the future). The 2002 movie season had some high quality top grossing films, including The Two Towers (although Attack of the Clones was the third highest-grossing film of the year). For these purposes, I think it's fair to say that Zito's season was Spider-Man, a top-notch movie that we tend to remember as lesser because of its sequels (namely, Spider-Man 3).
Pedro Martinez, 1999, 23-4
One of the best pitched seasons in my memory. Pedro was an absolute beast in 1999 and should have won both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Sadly, he won only the Cy Young Award that year, making Ivan Rodriguez the Phantom Menace to Pedro's Toy Story 2. The Sixth Sense and The Matrix were also top-grossing films that year, but neither could boast the perfection of Toy Story 2, making them unsuitable for Pedro comparisons.
Bob Welch, 1990, 27-6
Bob Welch was nowhere near as good as the 27-wins insinuated. His Cy Young Award that year easily should have gone to Roger Clemens, who, at 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA (a full run lower than Welch's 2.95) and 208 strikeouts, was better than Welch in every conceivable way. The top-grossing film of 1990 was Home Alone, but that doesn't fit Welch because it was actually a quality movie. Welch falls closer to Ghost, a lesser movie that knew how to tug on the right strings and which was given an undeserved award.
There are many more pitcher seasons I could talk about here, but I only wanted to hit a few highlights. If anyone has any other pitcher/movie correlations that might help better support Joe Posnanski's theory, I'd love to hear them. It's a pretty terrific analogy and I'd love to help it gain some traction, flaws and all.