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How do 100-loss teams typically fare the next season?

Are there better days ahead?

Kansas City Royals v. Chicago White Sox Photo by Matt Dirksen/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Last year the Royals lost 106, tying a club record. It was the seventh time in the 21st century they had lost 100+ games, after not enduring one in the first 33 years of club history, and it was the third time in the last six seasons, ultimately costing executive Dayton Moore his job.

Losing 100 games is a notorious feat, but the turn of the calendar presents a fresh start for a franchise. How do teams fare the next season after such a poor year? Since 2000, there have been 37 teams that have lost 100 games or more. Three of those came in 2019, when they were followed by a COVID-shortened season, making it difficult to evaluate how much they improved. But for the other 34 teams, 27 of them increased their win total the next season, with an average improvement of 14 wins.

How 100-loss teams have fared the next year, since 2000

Year Team Losses in year 1 Losses in year 2 Improvement
Year Team Losses in year 1 Losses in year 2 Improvement
2021 BAL 110 79 31
2003 DET 119 90 29
2004 ARI 111 85 26
2016 MIN 103 77 26
2008 SEA 101 77 24
2021 ARI 110 88 22
2002 KCR 100 79 21
2022 CIN 100 80 20
2013 HOU 111 92 19
2022 WSN 107 91 16
2010 PIT 105 90 15
2013 MIA 100 85 15
2022 PIT 100 86 14
2002 MIL 106 94 12
2018 CHW 100 89 11
2001 PIT 100 89 11
2009 WSN 103 93 10
2021 TEX 102 94 8
2018 BAL 115 108 7
2002 TBD 106 99 7
2006 KCR 100 93 7
2005 KCR 106 100 6
2010 SEA 101 95 6
2012 CHC 101 96 5
2006 TBD 101 96 5
2018 KCR 104 103 1
2021 PIT 101 100 1
2011 HOU 106 107 -1
2008 WSN 102 103 -1
2004 KCR 104 106 -2
2012 HOU 107 111 -4
2001 TBD 100 106 -6
2022 OAK 102 112 -10
2002 DET 106 119 -13

Five of those teams improved enough to enjoy a winning season - let’s take a quick look at them.

The 2003 Royals were coming off a 62-100 season, but armed with the optimistic outlook of manager Tony Peña, they won their first nine games of the season, and 16 of their first 19. They were still in first place as late as August 29 before a hot Twins team surpassed them for the division. They were a bit flukey, but were still much-improved thanks to an offense that was fourth in runs scored, with six starters sporting an OPS+ of 100 or better.

The Mariners cleaned house in 2008, and with a new GM and manager in 2009 they emphasized pitching and defense, using new defensive metrics. They acquired seven players in a big three-team trade in the off-season, acquiring stellar defender Franklin Gutierrez to patrol the outfield, then picked up slick fielding shortstop Jack Wilson while dumping the statuesque Yuniesky Betancourt on the Royals. The offense was dead last in runs scored, but the pitching was the best in the league, and they won 85 games, a 24-win improvement.

The 2016 Twins lost 103 games, the most ever by a Minnesota club. The team was similar in ways to last year’s Royals - a lineup full of young hitters with a very poor pitching staff. The Twins didn’t make significant moves, they stuck to the same team. The young hitters continued to improve, but the pitching staff gave up 100 fewer runs in 2017, leading to an 85-win season and a Wild Card berth.

The Orioles had the worst record in baseball in 2018, the second-worst in 2019, and tied for the worst in 2021, losing well over 100 games each season. But they were building the best player development organization in baseball, and by 2022 that machine was starting to produce. The awful pitching staff in 2021 improved dramatically, allowing 268 fewer runs despite losing their top pitcher, John Means, to injury. After a slow start, the team went 48-35 after July 2, ending with 83 wins and the top farm system in baseball.

The Reds suffered a 100-loss season in 2022 for the first in 40 years. They did nothing in the off-season, drawing criticism for cutting over $30 million from payroll from the third-worst team in baseball. But the team got great performances from some prospects they had acquired in trades when they dumped payroll, and were energized by the debut of top prospect Elly de la Cruz. They led the league in steals, were fifth in on-base percentage, and fifth in runs scored, and found themselves in first place at the beginning of August until a slump took them out of contention.

There were, of course, the teams that did not get appreciably better, or even got worse. The 2012-13 Cubs, the 2012-13 Astros, and 2018-21 Orioles were going through dramatic rebuilds. The 1998-2007 Rays, 2001-03 Tigers, 2018-23 Royals were stuck in swamps they found difficult to climb out of and the 2022-23 Athletics aren’t trying to be competitive so they can relocate to Vegas.

Will the 2024 Royals be the next example of a 100-loss team with a dramatic one-season improvement? It will require a significant improvement in the pitching staff and the continued development of their young hitters. But they have invested in the club, spending over $100 million on players this off-season, and the front office has been integrating new personnel and systems in place. It remains to be seen whether or not that will be successful, but at least history shows it is is possible for teams to improve significantly in one year.