I read an article which noted that there have been 3 or 4 100-win and 100-loss teams in Major League Baseball every season since 2018, but not very often before then.

Years with three or more 100-win teams:

2022: 4
2021: 3
2019: 4
2018: 3
2017: 3
2003: 3
2002: 3
1998: 3
1977: 3
1942: 3

Years with three or more 100-loss teams:

2022: 4
2021: 4
2019: 4
2018: 3
2002: 4
1985: 3
1965: 3
1964: 3
1962: 3
1961: 3
1954: 3
1912: 3
1908: 3

Why is this happening more often in recent years?

1 Answer 1


Different eras in MLB have had different reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to the incentive structures for teams competing.

In the 1960s, there was considerable expansion, and even beyond expansion you had teams like the Athletics which were essentially an expansion team in 1961 (in the pre-Chuck Finley era they were basically a AAA team for the Yankees, despite actually an MLB team), hence the 1961-1965 100 loss teams.

In the era between then and 2010 or so, teams made a good part of their money on ticket sales. A team that loses 100 games isn't selling many tickets. Look at this history of baseball revenue; it's somewhat old, but it includes this point:

By 2002, media revenue exceeded gate revenue for the average MLB team.

Prior to 2002, thus, gate revenue was more than the media revenue. Thus, a team needed to at least make some attempt to win to bring in fans (unless they were the Cubs, anyway). Winning 70-80 games was useful, even if it didn't have a shot at the playoffs; fans wanted a decent chance to watch a winning game.

In the 2018+ era, the incentives for teams to win 80 games are basically gone - television revenues are off the charts. Just looking at local television revenue, the total league sum was over 2 billion dollars in 2019. Compare that to gate revenue - a small market team that gets even 20k fans per game for 80 games (1.6 million total attendance) is making maybe a hundred million?

The one we can easily see is the Atlanta Braves - as they're owned by a publicly traded company - and they made $135M in gate revenue last year, which of course was a bit of a banner year for them; in down years they. made more like $50M. So fielding a World Series winner was worth $85M to them - not bad, for sure. But look at the earlier bumps in that graph; fielding a decent team is only worth around $10M, which is much less than their TV revenue (over $80M under their old contract, and going up $120M by 2027, see the current details on the Braves TV contract.)

Thus, there's a huge incentive to do really well - they increased their revenue by the same amount as their TV contract alone by winning the World Series! But there's very little incentive to field a decent but not amazing team. Instead, the incentive is perverse - pay nothing to the players so you make as much as possible (since there is no real salary floor), and win very few games, and then get better draft picks for a few years. This is the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs models that netted both teams a World Series win.

Those wins, in 2016 and 2017, undoubtedly had some direct relation to the timing you see above - some teams saw the total teardown/rebuild model as more effective and thus were fine with 100+ losses, and the 100+ loss teams contributed to more 100+ win teams as well as some teams going more "all in".

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