This is the Royals 50th anniversary of existence as a team. Earlier this week they celebrated the milestone by doubling that number in losses on the season. This is the fifth time in franchise history the team has accomplished the feat. That means 10% of the time the Royals have been a baseball team they have lost 100 games or more in a season. That’s a total of no fewer than 500 losses. 10% of 500, of course, is 50. Math!
I know what you all have been waiting for, of course, a definitive ranking of the 100 loss seasons! As your resident Hok, I know all of these things. Provided to you here, with a little assistance from Baseball Reference, is the definitive ranking of all of the Royals 100-loss seasons
At this point, it just wasn’t funny, anymore. This was the Royals’ fourth 100-loss season in five years and the third in a row. There wasn’t even much to like about the team. Mike Sweeney was 32 and only managed to play in 60 games. The fact that he put up a 102 OPS+ despite all of his injuries is actually kind of amazing but it was very painful to watch. The most valuable pitcher on that roster, according to bWAR, was reliever Todd Wellemeyer with 1.0 bWAR and a 3.63 ERA. He also lugged around a 5.04 FIP just in case you thought he was anything but fool’s gold.
That was also the year of the infamous All-Star Mark Redman with the 5.71 ERA and very nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Scott Elarton was the second best starter and he did have more walks than strikeouts. Ambiorix Burgos was the primary closer and he carried a dazzling 5.52 ERA while collecting 18 saves and blowing 12.
There was just no reason to hope with this team. Mark Teahen was the best player on that team in his sophomore season and if you dreamed you thought maybe he’d figured everything out. But he was the only above-average hitter in the lineup. Add that to the complete lack of anything resembling competent pitching and you get no hope.
This team was just devastating. The Royals had actually finished above .500 in 2003 and hopes were high in 2004 after the Royals had made some additions to the roster. That roster had Zack Greinke, who was pretty good, but he wasn’t enough to cover for the failings of Darrell May, Brian Anderson, Jimmy Gobble, or Mike Wood. Jeremy Affeldt was that team’s primary closer and he carried a 4.95 ERA and only managed to save 13 games.
Carlos Beltran started the year with the team but was traded for prospects after the Royals and he could not come to an agreement on an extension because of a difference in salary of $1M. He still came in third if you rank the most bWAR acquired by a player for that team. Joe Randa was the most valuable position player to spend the entire season on the team and he was a below average hitter. Mike Sweeney was still good but no longer amazing and carried a 118 OPS+ from the DH slot and missed a bunch of time.
There is just no getting over how crushingly disappointing it was to think the Royals might finally have a chance to build on what they had done in 2003 and watch them completely fail like that. Trading Beltran and watching him become a national sensation for the Houston Astros didn’t improve matters, either. A young David DeJesus was still on that roster, of course, but it sure didn’t look like they’d have anything to build around him.
Is that starting to sound familiar, yet?
In contrast to both the 2004 and 2006 rosters, there were a handful of interesting players on the 2005 team. Matt Stairs was old but he could still hit a little and he was a ton of fun. Mark Teahen and John Buck were promising rookies from the Beltran trade who had some early success, though they struggled later. The outfield had a developing David DeJesus and the intriguing Emil Brown. Perhaps best of all, Mike Sweeney rebounded and had a more healthy season.
Among the pitchers Zack Greinke was terrible but he was still only 21 and one of the most talented pitchers in the sport. D.J. Carrasco wasn’t too terrible in the rotation. Mike MacDougal was an entertaining closer who didn’t blow every save while Andy Sisco came over from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft and looked like he might be a stud in the bullpen at 22. Burgos and Wood both found some success in the ‘pen, too, and it didn’t seem like an entirely foregone conclusion that the team would blow every lead.
There wasn’t a lot to go on, with this team but it sure seemed a heck of a lot more interesting than the others so far mentioned.
There’s something to be said for the first time you do something horrible. Novelty is a valuable commodity in the world, after all. Watching one guy get hit in the groin with a fastball can be mildly fascinating. By the time you see the same guy get hit there for the fourth time in five pitches, you’re definitely tired of it. The 2002 Royals were bad. But it was the first time in the history of the world that a Royals team was that bad. The novelty counts.
Beyond novelty, that team also benefited from having a pitcher just outside the Cy Young Award race in Paul Byrd. Runelvys Hernandez was above average for the period, too, with an ERA of only 4.36. But really that team was about the hitters. Mike Sweeney was still at the height of his powers. Carlos Beltran put up a second straight season of terrific hitting and stole more than 30 bases. Raul Ibanez had exploded onto the scene as a 29-year-old the prior season and just kept mashing baseballs at 30. Joe Randa was even steady at third.
The top five bullpen arms were all even above average pitchers by ERA+. Scott Mullen and Corey Bailey took the middle innings while Jason Grimsley and Jeremy Affeldt did most of the setup work. 37-year-old Roberto Hernandez did his job and saved 26 games, too. There were a bunch of other young guys floating around that you could squint and see bright futures for; Dan Reichert, Christ George, Mike MacDougal, and Chad Durbin among them.
A lot of the players on that team showed up in 2003, too. It’s no coincidence that the most exciting 100-loss team in Royals history before this season led into the first team to win more games than it lost in almost a decade.
I’m not going to lie. The roster at the start of the year was nearly entirely unwatchable. I’ve always said that if you’re going to lose, at least do it with young guys. The opening day lineup for the 2018 Royals averaged 29.7 years old. That’s not even remotely young. They were slow, they were bad, they were boring. The rotation wasn’t much younger.
But this second half has seen playing time go to guys like Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Jorge Bonifacio, Brett Phillips, and Adalberto Mondesi. The rotation has gotten much younger as well with Brad Keller, Jorge Lopez, and Heath Fillmyer getting opportunities to start instead of Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, and Jason Hammel.
The team is younger and faster. They play with more energy and hope. Until a recent 4-game losing streak, they’d even won more games than they had lost in September. Even now, before last night’s action, they had at least score more runs than they had allowed. A far cry from having their run output nearly tripled by their opponents in June.
What do you think? These are, as I said, the definitive rankings but I’m sure some of you out there disagree all the same. Put your own rankings in the comments below!