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100 losses does not doom a franchise

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There is a light at the end of the tunnel

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Kansas City Royals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Royals have hit the 100-loss mark plateau for the fifth time in franchise history, and the first since 2006, Dayton Moore’s first year in Kansas City. Having a 100-loss season stinks, there is no getting around that, but the Royals have played reasonably well down the stretch with a core of young players like Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, and Brad Keller that is sure to give fans some hope in an otherwise gloomy season.

But if you needed more reason to be optimistic, consider that a 100-loss season does not necessarily doom a franchise to years of losing baseball. Rany Jazayerli of The Athletic took a look at how 100-loss teams fare over the next few subsequent years and found that “teams that lost 100-plus games were more likely to have a winning season within three years (45 percent) or five years (70 percent) than teams that lost 92-93 games (44 percent and 56 percent, respectively).”

I took a look at the 23 teams that have lost 100 or more games since 2000 but before this season and found that all but six improved the next season. That shouldn’t be too big of a surprise, since 100 losses is quite an outlier and you can expect terrible teams to experience a “dead cat bounce.” Three of the teams actually experienced winning seasons the next year, although all three - the 2003 Royals, the 2009 Mariners, and the 2017 Twins - seem a bit fluky as the franchise sank back their losing ways.

Most teams, however, weren’t a winning team the next season, or even the year after that. But by year three, many were on their way to contention. Of the 23 teams with 100-losses since 2000, nine of them had a winning season in the third year after that terrible season - six of those were in the playoffs.

100 loss teams since 2000

Team 100-loss season Next year Change Year Three Change from Year 1
Team 100-loss season Next year Change Year Three Change from Year 1
2016 Twins .364 .525 44.2% N/A N/A
2013 Astros .315 .432 37.1% .519 64.6%
2013 Marlins .383 .475 24.0% .491 28.1%
2012 Cubs .377 .407 8.0% .599 58.8%
2012 Astros .340 .315 -7.4% .531 56.1%
2011 Astros .346 .340 -1.7% .432 24.9%
2010 Pirates .352 .444 26.1% .580 64.8%
2010 Mariners .377 .414 9.8% .438 16.3%
2009 Nationals .364 .426 17.0% .605 66.2%
2008 Mariners .377 .525 39.3% .414 9.7%
2008 Nationals .366 .364 -0.5% .497 35.8%
2006 Royals .383 .426 11.2% .401 4.8%
2006 Rays .377 .407 8.0% .519 37.5%
2005 Royals .346 .383 10.7% .463 33.8%
2004 Diamondbacks .315 .475 50.8% .556 76.4%
2004 Royals .358 .346 -3.4% .426 19.0%
2003 Tigers .265 .444 67.5% .586 121.3%
2002 Tigers .342 .265 -22.5% .438 28.1%
2002 Royals .383 .512 33.7% .346 -9.7%
2002 Brewers .346 .420 21.4% .500 44.5%
2002 Rays .342 .389 13.7% .414 20.9%
2001 Pirates .383 .447 16.7% .447 16.8%
2001 Rays .383 .342 -10.7% .435 13.5%

There are a few repeat teams in here, so you can see that 100-loss teams can be mired in the muck for quite awhile. Some teams use that time to build towards a contender - the recent Astros clubs, the 2008-09 Nationals built the core that would win the first of four division titles in 2012, and the 2002-03 Tigers that improved dramatically enough to be in the World Series by 2006. But some franchises could not rescue themselves from irrelevance - the early 2000s Devil Rays, the 2004-2006 Royals, and the 2008-2010 Mariners.

How can the Royals make sure they are one of the teams building towards something rather than spinning their wheels? The farm system is likely to be a big factor in their rebuild. Here is how the farm systems of 100-loss teams were ranked by Baseball America before their bad season, after the season, and the first-round pick they netted the following June for losing 100 games.

Organizational rankings of 100-loss teams

Team BA Ranking Next year ranking 1st rd pick next year
Team BA Ranking Next year ranking 1st rd pick next year
2016 Twins 10 22 Royce Lewis
2013 Astros 9 5 Brady Aiken
2013 Marlins 5 27 Tyler Kolek
2012 Cubs 14 12 Kris Bryant
2012 Astros 18 9 Mark Appel
2011 Astros 26 18 Carlos Correa
2010 Pirates 15 19 Gerrit Cole
2010 Mariners 12 18 Danny Hultzen
2009 Nationals 21 24 Bryce Harper
2008 Mariners 24 12 Dustin Ackley
2008 Nationals 10 21 Stephen Strasburg
2006 Royals 23 11 Mike Moustakas
2006 Rays 10 1 David Price
2005 Royals 28 23 Luke Hochevar
2004 Diamondbacks 13 13 Justin Upton
2004 Royals 19 28 Alex Gordon
2003 Tigers 12 22 Justin Verlander
2002 Tigers 18 12 Kyle Sleeth
2002 Royals 21 26 Chris Lubanski
2002 Brewers 26 16 Rickie Weeks
2002 Rays 15 10 Delmon Young
2001 Pirates 19 22 Brian Bullington
2001 Rays 6 15 Melvin Upton

The Royals’ farm system was ranked second-worst in MLB by Baseball America before the season, and despite some improvements was still ranked just 26th in their mid-season update. The early 2000s Royals also suffered from poor farm systems, making it difficult to escape the cellar. The 2002-03 Tigers had a mediocre-to-poor farm system, but they spent money on free agents like Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Kenny Rogers to get back to relevance.

The 2008-09 Nationals also had a dismal farm system, but that was helped immensely by back-to-back #1 overall picks, used to take Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Losing a lot of games nets you a high draft pick, and while there is no guarantee it will pan out, 100-loss teams have a fair shot at landing a legitimate All-Star caliber-player, if not an outright superstar. Strasburg and Harper, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa were all a big part of their club’s rise from also-ran to playoff team in three years.

This was a rough year for Royals fans, but perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. While perhaps the goal of competing by 2020, as owner David Glass has suggested, is going to be difficult, it is not unrealistic to think a 100-loss team can be a contender just three years later, meaning the Royals could be in contention by 2021. That will mean carefully building around the young players impressing this year, dramatically improving the state of the farm system, and nailing next year’s first-round pick. Hopefully Dayton Moore is up to the task and we won’t see the Royals making more appearances on this list.