No one but the most optimistic of Royals fans thought this team would seriously contend for a championship, but their stumble out of the gate may be slightly eye-raising to even the most pessimistic fan. The Royals have begun the season just 7-20, which is currently the fifth-worst winning percentage in April in franchise history, for a club that has nearly always seemed to start slowly.
That win percentage would put them on a pace to lose 120 games, although it seems highly unlikely the Royals will continue playing this poorly all season. But are they at risk of losing 100 games? It is a mark they have reached just four times in franchise history - 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006. This team doesn’t feel like it is as bad as those teams. But the cold hard standings care not for your feelings.
Losing 100 games is very hard. You can't afford even an average month. Have to keep your focus, lose the close ones. You need to be both bad and unlucky. I have to admit, this group has my attention. https://t.co/Btcdr5PhX3— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) April 28, 2018
I beg to differ with your assessment of the level of difficulty.— Mark Teahen (@MarkTeahen) April 28, 2018
First of all, let’s go over all the reasons why this team won’t lose 100. They have played extraordinarily bad over the first month, and seem likely to regress back to the mean a bit. Free agents Lucas Duda and Jon Jay have played below their career numbers and could improve a bit. Whit Merrifield and Danny Duffy have gotten off to slow starts. They played the first four weeks without All-Star catcher Salvador Perez.
They have been extraordinarily bad in clutch situations. The Royals are hitting just .181/.265/.264 with runners in scoring position, by far the worst OPS in baseball in those situations. Those numbers can be rooted in a bit in luck, and seem likely to even out a bit as the season progresses.
The cold weather probably hurt some of the power numbers a bit (although it didn’t hurt their opponents). The bullpen has been awful, but most of the issues are contained to three pitchers (Blaine Boyer, Justin Grimm, Brandon Maurer) - two of which are not on the current roster. As they sort out roles, the bullpen should improve from its league-worst ERA of 6.57. The Royals will also have a lot of games against other bad teams, like the Tigers and White Sox, which could pad their win total.
But the truth is, the Tigers and White Sox are also circling their calendar and pointing to the Royals as their chance to avoid 100 losses. The Royals are just 5-8 against those two clubs so far, and they have played just five games against teams that had a winning record last year.
The loss of Salvy hurt, and while he is back, any more injuries could be a pretty devastating blow for a team with paper-thin depth. The Royals have gotten excellent starting pitching performances from Ian Kennedy, Jake Junis, and Jason Hammel which could regress as the season continues. Mid-summer trades will hurt this roster greatly, particularly if Kelvin Herrera and Mike Moustakas are dealt. Last summer, the Tigers dropped 41 of their final 58 games after the July 31 trade deadline.
In the 22 full seasons since the shortened 1995 season, there have been 25 100-loss teams. Those teams had, on average, a -213 run differential, or -1.3 per-game. The Royals already have a -61 run differential in the first month, or -2.26 per-game. PECOTA projects the Royals to lose 99 games this year, while Fangraphs is slightly more optimistic with 96 losses.
Mellinger is right, in that you really have to keep up the level of suckiness all year to lose 100. You can’t really afford a hot streak. Of the 25 teams with 100-loss seasons since 1995, only five even experienced a winning month. That’s right, 145 of the 150 months of baseball, or 97% of months played by those teams, were losing months.
Of course, losing that many games, while embarrassing, can be a good thing. I recently wrote how Royals fans should see the upside in the team being horrible. If you’re going to be bad, be really bad. Out-suck the Marlins. Out-suck the Reds. Because 100 losses brings you that much closer to the #1 pick. Here’s how past 100-loss teams were rewarded in the draft the following year.
*-denotes #1 overall pick. MLB used to alternate leagues for the #1 pick until 2005
100 loss teams and their draft picks
If the Royals do lose 100, hopefully they get more of a Carlos Correa or Bryce Harper than a Bryan Bullington or Kyle Sleeth. We will see if the Royals right the ship in the summer as they did last year after a terrible month of April. But Eric Hosmer is not walking through that door. Lorenzo Cain is not walking through that door. April was a bad month for the Royals, but maybe it is indicative of how the season will go. As Buddy Bell once famously said during one of his 100-loss seasons, “I never say it can’t get worse.”
Will the Royals lose 100 games?
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