How hard is it for a Major League Baseball team to lose 100 games? It's pretty hard. It has happened only 144 times in MLB history in perhaps 2,300 (back-of-the-envelope estimate) team "seasons." If a team plays 16 seasons, maybe one of them will result in 100 losses, on average.
In light of my wondering how many games the 2015 Phillies would lose, I did a little research on how many teams lost 100 games, overall franchise records, and some other fun stuff over at Baseball-Reference.com.
First of all, our beloved Phillies, largely on the back of an appalling period from 1930 - 1949, "lead" the majors in franchise games below .500. At the end of 2014, they were 1,087 games below .500. Their winning percentage is 25th out of 30 MLB teams. Here is the sortable chart.
We've discussed the record-breaking badness of the Phillies in the 1930's and 1940's before, but it really bears mentioning that the main reason the Phillies were the first members of the 10,000 loss club was the amazing productivity of those Phillies teams during the Great Depression and World War II. Since then, the Phillies have been joined by the Braves, and the Cubs as teams with 10,000 losses. The Pirates are at 9,999 losses right now. The Reds, at 9,925 are going to join the club this summer, too. Can't wait!
The Phillies are MLB's losingest team largely because they have been a team since the 1880's and because they had an unparalleled period of wretchedness that is nearly out of the memory of any living person. It was almost unimaginably terrible, but it ended during World War II, and the Phillies have largely been successful since then. With that out of the way, let's learn about the fun thing: 100 loss seasons!
The Phillies have 'achieved' fourteen 100 loss seasons. Of those, 8 occurred during the years in the wilderness from 1930 - 1945, inclusive. By way of comparison, only 3 MLB teams other than the Phillies have 8 or more 100 loss seasons for their entire franchise histories. Two, the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Angels, have no 100 loss seasons at all. The Philadelphia Athletics had 11 seasons of 100+ losses, so Philadelphia has contributed 17.36% of the 100+ loss seasons in MLB history (for teams still in existence, anyway).
If you read the above chart from left to right, it shows the teams with the longest current streaks of years with no 100+ loss seasons at the left and the shortest on the right. Two teams with no 100+ loss seasons are at the far right. H/t to Phrozen for the chart. Oakland's last 100+ loss season was during 1979, so that gives a little perspective on how many have hit 100+ losses since 1979. I think that the single 100+ loss seasons for Cincinnati and San Francisco are pretty remarkable, given the number of years those franchises have been around.
While the Phillies trail only the Athletics in 100 loss seasons (they have 16), the Phillies have avoided the curse of 100 losses since 1961. That 1961 Phillies team was the first one since 1945 to lose 100 games. That's pretty good.
Other than the 100 lossless Angels and Rockies, only three franchises have longer streaks of avoiding 100 losses that predate 1961:
- St. Louis Cardinals (1908)
- the New York Yankees, nee 'Highlanders' (1912), and
- the Los Angeles Dodgers , nee 'Superbas' (1908)
That's pretty good company for the Phillies franchise.
The Phillies have come close. In my post about how many games the 2015 Phillies might lose, PhillyinPortland referenced the mini-strike that shortened the 1972 season by 6 games for a Phillies team that lost 97 games. That is an excellent nugget that I never noticed or knew, and h/t to PhillyinPortland for sharing it. Steve Carlton's 27 wins during that season is somewhat more remarkable knowing he likely was deprived of a start or two.
One hundred losses is an arbitrary number that we use to assess truly awful teams solely as an artifact of our base-ten system. One hundred loss teams are not much worse than 95 loss teams, and luck can account for whether a team reaches legendarily bad status rather than being merely awful. Are these teams any less bad, really, than a 100 loss team?
The Phillies have had 7 seasons from 1961 through 2014 in which they lost at least 95 games but didn't quite reach the mountaintop.
The 97 loss Phillies team from 2000 is worth looking at. It had a Pythagorean W-L record of 69 - 93, so they were unlucky in addition to being wretched. The 1969 Phillies with 99 losses had a Pythag of 70 - 92, so they were even more unlucky and somewhat less wretched than the 2000 Phillies. Does this mean that the 99 loss team in 1969 was really markedly better than a 100 loss team? Sort of, but does it matter that much to a casual fan? Conversely, they were no less bad simply because they did not lose one more game. There's a certain "round number"ness to it, but even that is much less meaningful than you may think at first blush.
The most-recent really bad team for the Phillies that came close to the 100 loss threshold was the 2000 Phillies team that went 65 - 97. Have a look at the 2000 Phillies through the prism of Baseball-Reference.com.
While the 2000 team was undeniably bad, it had Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, Curt Schilling (until the trade), Scott Rolen, Robert Person, Pat Burrell, and Randy Wolf. Bruce Chen was pretty good, too. The wretchedness came from the roughly 1,000 players pitched an inning or played an inning or came to the plate for this team as well as regulars who should not have been.
Losing 100 games would have been a lot easier had that team not had four decent to good starting pitchers for parts of the year and two clear All-Star caliber players in Rolen and Abreu. A lack of production from shortstop, second base, and center field ate this team up, along with starting pitchers Andy Ashby, Paul Byrd, and a bullpen that was beyond terrible.
A 97 loss team of the nature of the 2000 Philllies is a really bad team that I would be happy to have, though. In hindsight, we know there would be several more years of similar production from Abreu, Jimmy Rollins blossoming into a borderline Hall of Fame shortstop, and Pat Burrell rogering Delaware Valley women and MLB pitchers for the next 8 years. It was a productive bad team. It was not the desert island Pirates of the late 1990's, where every planted seed withered for at least a decade.
The status of the Phillies at the MLB level that year also did not reveal anything about what was percolating under the surface in the minors, but assessing the quality of an organization with an MLB team that loses 100 games is different than figuring out how hard it is for a MLB team to lose 100 games in a given year.
Can the Phillies end their 54 year streak of not losing 100 games? What paths to defeat will enable them to enter the pantheon of the truly horrific? I will look at that in an upcoming segment of Phillies Apocalypse.