Ever since joining Pinstripe Alley, I have gained a much better perspective on baseball. I was introduced to Sabermetric types of statistics and now understand how baseball can be broken down so many different ways. I also learned that the value of a win and a loss for a pitcher just simply doesn't matter anymore. Below, I will list two critical reasons as to why this holds true.
1) Run Support - There is a statistic for pitchers (that pitchers really have no impact on) that lists how many runs, on average, are scored per game behind that particular pitcher. This is the number one reason wins and losses mean nothing. Some pitchers have more good fortune than others. Pitchers on excellent teams (CC Sabathia, Jon Lester) have offenses behind them that are capable of scoring a boatload of runs every day. Other pitchers (Felix Hernandez, Ted Lilly) have mediocre or flatout terrible offenses behind them that just aren't formidable or dominant. Therefore, run support plays a huge outcome on the game.
Here's a common situation: Zack Greinke tosses 8 innings against the LA Angels on May 9, 2009 and allows 1 run on 4 hits, 0 walks while striking out 5. Greinke was awarded a loss because the Royals could not score a run for him. He pitched an excellent game, but his offense couldn't do their part... so he was given the L.
2) Defense - Other than homeruns, strikeouts and walks... a pitcher has little to no effect on how the game unfolds. Theoretically, every position player should be able to make plays on balls hit to them. Some players aren't fast enough to balls scorched down the line and that can be the difference between a single, double or triple. Misreading hits leads to the exact same thing. Are all misread plays listed as errors which, in turn, lead to unearned runs? Absolutely not. Having a great defense behind you, as a pitcher, is also key to picking up wins.
My main problem with the misconception of a pitcher's record is that it is not an individual accomplishment. Most of it depends on the rest of the team. There are many statistics that also are dependent on the performances of other players, but W/L takes the cake. Take, for example, Roy Oswalt. He had 20 starts this year for the Houston Astros before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. His record was 6-12 when he was traded, despite a relatively great ERA of 3.42 and a ridiculous 8.37 K/9 (2.3 BB/9). I wonder why his record was so poor... maybe because the Astros only scored 3.22 runs per game behind him? That's worst run support in MLB. Oswalt has lost wins left and right during his career in Houston due to the fact that they have never really had a good offense to support him. Those wins that never were could drastically affect whether or not he makes the hall of fame one day. Vice versa, not-so-special pitchers can possibly win more games and their statistics look better.
Lets take a look at run support around the league and how many wins pitchers have...
Most run support behind them. Min 160 innings pitched.
1) CC Sabathia. Yankees average 7.11 runs when he pitches. His record is 15-5. ERA is 3.14.
3) Adam Wainwright. Cardinals average 6.48 runs when he pitches. His record is 17-6. ERA is 1.99.
Least run support behind them. Min 160 innings pitched.
1) Felix Hernandez. Mariners score 3.85 runs when he pitches. His record is 8-9. ERA is 2.71.
3) Zack Greinke. Royals score 4.39 runs when he pitches. His record is 7-11. ERA is 3.99.
Due to run support, Carl Pavano looks just as good as, if not better, than Felix Hernandez, Johan Santana, and Matt Cain. A pitcher's record is a foolish way to compare pitchers. Do I have an idea for an alternative? Not really. It just doesn't seem fair that some pitchers are awarded more wins than others due to the fact that they are on a better team, so they themselves are not necessarily better than the pitcher on a poorer team.
I truly believe that, when it comes time to vote for Cy Young recipient... a pitcher's record should not be weighed heavily at all.
Random: Phil Hughes garners 9.72 runs thanks to the Yankee offense. No wonder he's 13-5.