The Royals are bad. Unfortunately, they aren’t bad enough, because despite how bad they’ve been, the Orioles have been more bad. Right now the Orioles hold the #1 draft pick for 2019 and they also hold the tiebreaker should they finish even with the Royals. Dan Szymborski (now) at FanGraphs tried getting both teams to 120 losses recently. That seems both possible and implausible. That order of magnitude of being lousy is tough to do. Teams are going to win ~54 games and lose ~54 games, it’s what they do with the other ~54 games that matters, and it looks like the Royals and Orioles are going to lose a lot of that middle section.
And when you look around baseball, there are some bad teams. The Oriole and Royals are bad, of course. But so are the White Sox. And so are the Marlins and Mets. The Reds and Padres too. And not just 85-90 losses bad, but 90+ losses lousy.
The Royals are likely going to lose 100 games (they are on pace to lose 116 at this point) and they are going to spend $140M doing it. The Orioles are going to lose 100+ games too, and they are going to spend $143M doing it.
There seem to be a lot of bad, expensive teams this year. So I looked at every team that lost 100+ games since 1990 (when reliable payroll data is available) and how much their payroll was. Then I adjusted that for inflation based off of actual US inflation numbers (the alternative would have either been a stagnant number or “baseball inflation” of ~5% per year).
*Authors note - I started working on this last week when the Reds and Rangers were on pace for 100+ losses. They’ve since won several games, improving their on pace record but I’m leaving them here for 1) posterity and 2) they are awful still
The three most expensive 100+ loss teams from the past 30 years come from this year(four if you think the Rangers are worse than this) and six of the most expensive ten (including the Reds who only saw their on pace record improve over the past week when they took two from the Brewers, two from the White Sox, and two from the Indians...but let’s be real here).
Now of course, payrolls have been rising, maybe even more so than inflation, so of course the most recent season teams are going to be near the top of the list. Another way to look at it is to look how the team spent compared to the league average payroll. We’ll call it Payroll+, where each point above/below 100 is +/-1%
Now the 2008 Mariners are kings. Even though they didn’t lose an ungodly amount of games, they spent 31% above the league average payroll to lose those games. They were paying $17M to Ichiro, Richie Sexson $15M, Adrian Beltre $13M, Jarrod Washburn $9.8M, Miguel Bautista $9.5M and Jose Vidro $8.5M. They had six of the top 100 most expensive players that year.
Now we’ve got the Mets who are paying $20M to the corpse of David Wright (and a few million to Bobby Bonilla into eternity), the Rangers who are paying Prince Fielder $24M to wear matching outfits on vacation, the Orioles who have decided to bench a player they still owe $100M+ to, and Royals who have about a league average payroll inflated by one bad free agency deal after another. After that, there is a big gulf of payroll+ before entering the realm of what we can call efficient losing.
At least in the White Sox, Reds, and Marlins case, yeah...they’re bad, but at least they aren’t spending a lot of money doing so (relative to the year).
The last time there were three 105+ loss teams was in 2002, when the Tigers, Devil Rays, and Brewers all lost 106 games. Before that, it had never happened since baseball switched to a 162 game schedule.
And it’s entirely possible we get more than three 105+ loss teams this year. The White Sox, Orioles, and Royals are already deep in the hole, and while the White Sox aren’t locks, the Orioles and Royals certainly seem like they are. But then there is also the Marlins, who are just J.T. Realmuto (a potential trade candidate) and a bunch of replacement level guys, threatening with 100+ losses. The Mets could trade Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, putting them in clear 100+ loss territory. The Rangers have to play the Astros, Mariners, and Athletics another 20+ times this year, mixed in the games against the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, and Indians. They could certainly lose 100+ games.
I’m rooting for all these teams to lose 105+ games, because if you’re gonna be bad, be bad.