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The quest for 99: is avoiding a 100-loss season worth it?

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What if the Royals go on a tear?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) is congratulated by right fielder Jorge Bonifacio (38) after hitting a two run home run in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, the idea of the 2018 Kansas City Royals losing fewer than 100 games was preposterous.

On Thursday, August 23, the Tampa Bay Rays walked off the Royals in St. Petersburg, handing Kansas City their fifth loss in a row to drop their record to an unsightly 38-90. That .297 winning percentage, if carried through to the end of the season, translated to 114 losses. That would be far and away the worst season in Royals history, ‘besting’ the previous record of 106 losses by eight, and would rank among the top in the pantheon of worst seasons in modern MLB history. The 2013 Houston Astros lost 111 games, so such loss totals are within the realm of modern comprehension, but only the 2003 Detroit Tigers had more than 114 losses in the last half century (that team lost an unfathomable 119 games).

Since that moment, though, the Royals have lost...one. One game. Leveraging an epic offensive run led by rookies Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn, Kansas City has won eight of its last nine games and stands at a record of 46-91. They are now on pace for merely 108 losses. That’s still, ah, not good, but it has slipped from ‘historically horrendous’ to merely ‘very bad.’

And, with 25 games left, the question must be asked: can the Royals win enough games to avoid a 100-loss season? Furthermore, with the possibility of the #1 or #2 pick in the 2019 MLB draft in play, should that even be a goal?

The Royals would need to go 17-8 over their last 25 games to squeak by at 99 wins. While that is doable, it’s pretty unlikely, and would require them to win 68% of their remaining games. The Boston Red Sox have been the best team in baseball all year, and even they have only won at about a 68% clip. Essentially, the Royals need to become the Red Sox for 25 games. It could happen, but remember that the team attempting this is actually the Royals, who are in the position to lose 100+ games for a reason (if you need convincing, go look at the names comprising the Royals bullpen).

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Royals do go 17-8 and end up at 63-99. Is that even a good thing? Well, to begin with, you can kiss the possibility of getting the first pick in next year’s draft goodbye, but that’s not really a big deal. Getting the second or third pick is almost just as good in most drafts.

However, by going 63-99, the Royals would be in danger of slipping down multiple spots in the draft. The San Diego Padres are currently on pace for 63 wins, and are the third-worst team. Just behind them, the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins are on pace for 65 wins, and the Chicago White Sox are on pace for 66 wins. In a worst case scenario, with those teams slumping just a little more, the Royals could slip from picking second (their current position) to picking sixth, and that is a big deal.

Of course, the draft is only one consideration, and there is another, arguably more important factor to consider: why the Royals are winning. See, if the Royals go 17-8, that means that they are doing well , yes, but it also means that specific players on the team are doing well. And at the moment, with a roster made up of a huge amount of rookies and less experienced players, it means that those players are doing well.

So it might just be worth it to slip down a few spots in the draft, because it means that Ryan O’Hearn continues mashing like peak Mike Moustakas. It means that Hunter Dozier continues just crushing the ball like peak Eric Hosmer. It means that Brad Keller and Jake Junis continue doing vintage James Shields impressions. It means that Adalberto Mondesi continues a ‘Tim Anderson but better’ routine.

Wins are not independent of cause; they are powered by individual baseball players doing a bunch of specific things on a baseball field. For the Royals, these players are young and important to the long-term health of the franchise. Kansas City has essentially jettisoned the playing time of all their position player veterans not named Alex Gordon, whose contract is a giant, immovable millstone around his neck and who is at least playing Gold Glove defense. Their rotation is Danny Duffy, three rookies, and one dude who exhausted his rookie eligibility just last year. The bullpen is a mess, but it is at least a mess devoid of Blaine Boyer and Justin Grimm.

In other words, for the Royals to finish with 99 losses, something will have had to go crazy right, and since the Royals are made up of mostly young guys it would be those young guys succeeding and powering the winning streak. Conversely, if the Royals lose a bunch of games and shoot way past 100 losses, it means the rookies stopped experiencing success.

Maybe if the team’s composition was more like it was at the beginning of the year, losing games would take priority. And in a vacuum, each loss from now until the end of the year is more valuable than a win. But we aren’t in a vacuum. Every win from now until the end of the year means that the rookies are doing things right.

In other other words, Kansas City has finally put themselves in a position where rooting for the team to win is actually conducive to their efforts and personnel. For Royals fans who have endured a terrible season, that is music to their ears.