I’d like to check in with Oliver Marmol to see what he’s up to and find out more about his baseball philosophies and how he’ll implement them for the 2022 Cardinals. After being promoted to replace the deposed Mike Shildt, Marmol didn’t have much to offer or share about his plans.
And with Major League Baseball seemingly determined to inflict as much damage as possible on its own game, team personnel is off limits to the media. For now, Marmol remains a manager of mystery … and largely a man of mystery as well.
I suppose we won’t really know what we need to know until Marmol is allowed to speak freely, chooses to speak candidly, and we have the chance to see him in action once the Cardinals begin playing regular-season baseball.
I liked the hire and have positive feelings on Marmol’s people skills, his baseball knowledge and potential to give the Cardinals a more forward-thinking manager. But even though Marmol has been in the St. Louis organization since 2007, we still have much to learn about him.
The basics: drafted by the Cardinals in 2007, played four seasons in the minors, became a minor-league coach in 2011, was elevated to minor-league manager in 2012. After five mostly successful seasons and multiple first-place finishes at three different levels, Marmol was promoted to the Cardinals’ staff and installed as first base coach in 2017. In 2019 he received a more prominent assignment by becoming Shildt’s bench coach for three seasons. And when Shildt was fired after the 2021 season, Marmol moved into the manager’s office at age 35.
I think he has a tough job in front of him. The player talent is there to win and get the Cardinals back into the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. But it isn’t that simple. Even though Cardinals players know him and seem to like and respect him, this assignment won’t be easy for a rookie major-league league manager.
Marmol’s five seasons on the St. Louis staff will help. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, GM Michael Girsch and farm director Gary LaRocque are Marmol fans. Having worked for Cardinals managers Mike Matheny and Shildt, Marmol represents continuity. That should be a plus – unless, of course, he’s reluctant to change the way Shildt went with at least some baseball beliefs that require updating.
The STL front office and minor-league executives have been preparing Marmol for this job; it’s just that he got it sooner than anyone anticipated.
Here’s why I believe Marmol will be tested in 2022.
1) He’s replacing a winning manager. He’s inheriting a winning tradition. And while that can make the job more appealing, it also adds pressure. It’s a relatively small sample size, but Shildt’s .559 winning percentage in three-plus seasons ranks above Matheny (.555), Tony La Russa (.544), Whitey Herzog (.530) and Red Schoendienst (.522.)
Three differences: (A) Schoendienst, Herzog, La Russa and Matheny managed the Cardinals for nearly 50 seasons combined; and (B) those four managed the team to at least one NL pennant, and collected nine NL pennants overall; and (C) Schoendienst, Herzog and La Russa led Cardinal teams to a combined four World Series championships.
The Cardinals made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons (2019-2021) under Shildt; only six other MLB teams matched that three-year streak. After the Cardinals failed to reach the postseason for three straight years, Shildt moved the team up, and back into the postseason, for three years in a row. If the Cardinals flop and fail to reach the postseason in 2022, Marmol will draw scrutiny – and probably some criticism.
2) As Shildt’s bench coach, Marmol had the delicate responsibility of serving as a go-between supporter when players got mad at Shildty and needed to vent. By all accounts he did a good job of handling the situation by letting the players clear their minds, and making constructive suggestions to assist them. But now that he’s the manager, Marmol has the task of making decisions that won’t always be popular in the clubhouse – especially if he makes a lot of changes in the way things were done during the previous regime. I doubt that Marmol has been the recipient of direct disdain from experienced big-league veterans. How will he deal with it? Marmol will lean on his own bench coach, Skip Schumaker. And Skip can be a valuable presence. But Marmol’s transition to being the boss won’t always go smoothly.
3) Yadier Molina’s planned final season will be challenging for the rookie manager. Yadier is a towering figure of respect and admiration inside the clubhouse, and on the field. But for four straight seasons he’s supplied subpar offense – around 15 percent below the league average based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Molina’s offense isn’t a substantial issue because of his defense, pitch calling, and leadership.
Now here’s the problem: Molina shouldn’t be batting fifth in the lineup as often as he does. Over the past four seasons among 31 MLB hitters that have at least 400 plate appearances in the No. 5 spot, Molina ranks 28th in wRC+, 29th in OPS (.703) and is tied for last in slugging percentage (.396.) Since the start of the 2018 season only three MLB hitters have more plate appearances in the No. 5 spot than Molina’s 583 PA.
Among the hitters with the 10 highest number of plate appearances in the five slot over the past four seasons, Molina has the worst wRC+ at eight percent below league average offensively. The other nine, collectively, were 30 percent above league average offensively when batting No. 5. No disrespect, but this has to stop. If Marmol is serious about maximizing the run–scoring potential through smarter lineup construction, Molina can’t be batting fifth. Molina is an above-average hitter with runners in scoring position, but his performance with RISP when batting fifth is around the middle of the pack. how much does Marmol factor that in?
Matheny and Shildt didn’t want to tick Molina off, and they managed accordingly. I’ll be curious to see if Marmol continues the tradition of fearing Molina – or will he do what makes the most sense for the lineup and his team? Marmol and Molina have a good relationship, so it’s possible we’ll see Molina go along with lineup rearrangements done by Marmol.
4) We don’t know much about Marmol’s plan for pitcher usage. If Marmol believes in the “opener” concept – using relievers to open a percentage of games instead of going with a standard starting pitcher – how will the St. Louis pitchers react? Using openers and shifting away from the past norms isn’t as radical now. It’s definitely different, but more teams are using the system on occasion, especially Tampa Bay. If Marmol wants to go with it, he’ll have to talk it out with pitching coach Mike Maddux, who presumably prefers the traditional way of organizing a rotation. And Marmil will have to get the starting pitchers to buy in. Do you think Adam Wainwright would go for it? Hypothetical. Because we don’t know where Marmol stands on this issue. By the way: the Cardinals’ idea of “radical” is actually humorous. This team is hardly out there setting a new template for baseball philosophies and tactics. It’s an extremely conservative baseball town, with some fans and media heading to the fainting couch when someone mentions the word “platoon.” I question how much the front office and the manager are willing to push the envelope.
5) Mozeliak and DeWitt did Marmol no favors by playing the “I’ve Got A Secret” game after sacking Shildt and creating a facts-and-information vacuum. By declining to be more specific and locking into the vague mode while failing to be transparent and explain the reasons for the change, it puts Marmol in a bad spot as he begins his term in office. Why? By remaining mum, the Cardinals’ bosses fed the prevailing narrative in an old-school market: Shildt resisted a stronger push into ‘dem crazee and nutball advanced analytics and the Cardinals canned him because he wouldn’t go along with all of these nerds and their bird-brained recommendations. This is mostly off target of course, but you know how it goes with narratives. Especially when there’s no one in charge willing to debunk those narratives and offer some truth.
So. By promoting Marmol, way too many people assumed that Mozeliak and DeWitt wanted to put a puppet in place that will do as they say and never push back. Marmol will go along with the advanced-metrics nerds to keep the owner and the baseball president happy. This is terribly unfair to Marmol – and by the way, I don’t believe it’s true. But this is how Cardinals’ management has set it up – giving critics and Shildt’s media toadies a large open space for filling in the preferred theories. So even if 90 percent of Marmol’s new ideas and advanced tactics are his own – and he’s taken the lead in implementing them – the “puppet” talk will persist. I can hear it now. “He’s just following orders. He’s not allowed to think on his own.” It’s a shame. And frankly it makes me mad.
Thanks for reading …
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