Oli Marmol has managed only 35 big-league games, and it’s too soon to make a definitive appraisal.

But I like what I’m seeing in one important area: Marmol doesn’t fool around in making lineup changes. Unlike predecessors Mike Matheny and Mike Shildt, Marmol isn’t into the “That’s My Guy” thing. What does that mean? It’s my shorthand for a manager that goes with misplaced favoritism that puts an individual player ahead of the overall team’s interests.

Matheny and Shildt would stick with a failing player because they liked him personally. Part of this was attaching virtues that should have no place in the decision-making process … things like “he works so hard,” or “he’s come through for us so many times last year.” Hard work doesn’t mean much if a hitter can’t hit. (See: Paul DeJong.) Past accomplishments shouldn’t be carried over with a misguided assumption: a guy who was strong offensively two or three years ago will do it again, even if 90 percent of the evidence points to an opposite conclusion. (See: Matt Carpenter.)

And by sticking with a fading or underachieving hitter, the ol’ “That’s My Guy” managing style penalizes his team in another way: by continuing to give priority status to a weak hitter, the manager limits opportunities for a younger, more promising hitter who could make a positive difference.

A few examples…

Matheny held back Kolten Wong in the second baseman’s early years, even if it meant playing a broken-down Mark Ellis at 2B instead. Matheny didn’t utilize outfielder Tommy Pham as much as he should have when the Cardinals were in desperate need of offense. And do you remember how Matheny blindly stayed with veteran Brandon Moss in the final month of the 2016 season? Moss went 9 for 91 (.099) with a .387 OPS and 33 strikeouts – and Matheny incomprehensibly put him in the lineup every day. Moss was Matheny’s guy, you see. All objectivity was tossed aside.

Shildt all but ignored the presence of outfielder Randy Arozarena after the Cardinals promoted him from Class AAA Memphis. In September of 2019 starting outfielders Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler had batting averages of .190 or worse. And all posted an OPS lower than .650 for the month. But that didn’t matter to Shildt; Arozarena had 11 plate appearances in September. The Cardinals traded Arozarena to Tampa Bay after the season, and he became the star of the 2020 postseason and then AL Rookie of the Year in 2021.

DeJong got off to a horrendous start in 2021, but Shildt declined to do the right thing by giving Sosa a chance to play shortstop. Sosa started only two of the team’s first 40 games and got in the lineup only after DeJong went on the IL for an extensive time with a fractured rib. And even then, Shildt’s first move after DeJong went out was to play Tommy Edman at shortstop for three consecutive games.  When Shildt finally released Sosa from the bench, Sosa responded by batting .294 with a .795 OPS in 75 starts at shortstop.

Marmol seems to have little if any interest in undermining his team by sticking with a lost cause or giving special treatment to a favorite player.

➜ DeJong was given the chance to show that his offseason work paid off and lead to a bounce-back offensively. And Marmol did nothing wrong by staying with DeJong for a while. But Marmol pulled the plug on DeJong after 77 at-bats and 24 starts. DeJong was demoted to Memphis with a .130 batting average and .417 OPS.

➜ Marmol did not hesitate to install rookie Brendan Donovan at shortstop for the team’s first four games after Pauly’s demotion. Sosa handled the next two games. And the two young players combined to hit .471 at shortstop in six games. Donovan has started at four different positions. He draws walks, takes smart at-bats, and is hitting .308 with a 1.014 OPS. Marmol didn’t treat Donovan like a child that needed to be protected; he put him to work right away and the Cardinals are better because of it. The same applies to rookie Juan Yepez, and we’ll get to him in a bit.

➜ Tyler O’Neill finished 8th in National League MVP voting in 2021 after breaking through for 34 homers, 26 doubles, 15 stolen bases, a .560 slugging percentage and .912 OPS. But this season O’Neill went into a funk after being distracted and disappointed by his salary-arbitration dispute with team management. He hired the great agent Scott Boras to do battle with the Cardinals, and that only raised the tension level.

Marmol stayed with O’Neill for a reasonable time, but when O’Neill couldn’t put business matters aside and continued to flop at the plate, Marmol adjusted. O’Neill had 82 plate appearances in April, third highest on the team. But O’Neill ranks 7th among Cardinals in plate appearances in May and has started only six of the team’s last 10 games. O’Neill is batting .193 with an even more abysmal .303 slugging percentage.

➜ Corey Dickerson had 41 plate appearances in April but has only 18 PA so far in May. And after hitting .154 with a .368 OPS in 28 plate appearances at DH in April, Dickerson has only eight PA as a DH in May.

➜ That’s because Marmol has enthusiastically played Yepez since the bopper’s promotion from Memphis on May 3. Yepez has started every game since joining the team, taking 21 plate appearances at designated hitter, 13 in left field, 10 in right field, and two at first base. By using Yepez in different roles, Marmol has effectively improved the production at DH and in left field. In that context, Marmol’s willingness to immediately go with Yepez gives the manager leeway to rearrange the DH spot and provides a legitimate alternative option in left field – which in turn frees Marmol to bench O’Neill when warranted.

➜ With Yepez, Marmol declined to go with the usual and nonsensical method of going super slow with a rookie hitter by putting him in a less important lineup spot to lessen the pressure. Yepez has the most plate appearances by a Cardinal in the cleanup spot (26) this month; that’s 12 more than any other teammate. Overall the RH-swinging Yepez is batting .366 with a 1.020 in 46 plate appearances. He has a .994 OPS vs. right-handed pitchers and a 1.171 OPS vs. lefties.

➜ Marmol remained committed to his initial plan to ease catcher Yadier Molina into the season after Molina arrived late – and not in shape – to spring training. Molina was the ultimate “That’s My Guy” player for Matheny and Shildt; they were afraid to offend him by suggesting extra days off to reduce the physical wear and tear. Marmol took a different approach by taking the time to connect with Molina for a discussion that Molina was happy to have. Molina signed off. It wasn’t a big deal. Manager and player got on the same page, treated each other with respect, and Molina is enjoying a strong May (.333 average) after getting up to speed physically.

➜ As a bonus, No. 2 catcher Andrew Knizner has used his expanded playing time to put up a .362 onbase percentage and a 116 OPS+ that’s 16 percent above the league average offensively. Kiz has nine RBI and the third-best walk rate on the team (12.2%.) Knizner has a decent .728 OPS with runners in scoring position and a robust OPS (.856) with RISP and two out. Bottom line – and for whatever the reason – Knizner is being treated with respect for the first time as a Cardinal. And that’s largely because of Marmol.

➜ Marmol opened the season with Dylan Carlson in the leadoff spot. But 11 uncomfortable games later, with Carlson batting .196 with a .250 onbase percentage, Marmol pivoted to Tommy Edman and moved Carlson down in the lineup.

It took some time for Carlson to rebound, but in his last 13 games the right fielder is batting .302 with a .883 OPS. Edman’s overall performance is down in May, but he has a .351 onbase percentage as the leadoff hitter since Marmol made the switch. And that will work for now. The leadoff spot could be revisited again this season.

Point is, Marmol realized that his initial lineup construction needed revisions, and he quickly made the changes instead of stubbornly clinging to something that wasn’t working.

➜ Albert Pujols has poor numbers vs. RH pitchers – 2 for 27 – and can’t be overexposed. This is an ongoing challenge for Marmol; the Cardinals don’t face many lefties. And in the manager’s defense, if Pujols doesn’t have the chance to see many lefties, he can’t sit for days and days and not get swings. He has to get at least some at-bats vs. RHP. But since Yepez entered the lineup on May 4, Pujols has just 11 plate appearances vs. righties. Marmol is handling this about as well as reasonably possible – at least up to this point.

Marmol is doing a lot of things well so far. I don’t understand the Jake Woodford (2.08 ERA) neglect, but I also realize that every manager has whiffs during a season. It’s been that way since, well, forever. And I do think Marmol will have some hero-ball managing episodes in which he stays too long with Adam Wainwright in a start, or succumbs to his internal emotional pull to use Pujols against RH pitchers. But as long as this doesn’t become a regular occurrence, it’s OK.

Marmol is operating with a flawed roster, but he’s taking care of the two really important aspects of managing: (1) putting the team’s best interests ahead of an individual player; (2) for the most part he’s playing the best players with no real consideration given to favorite-son status, seniority or MLB experience. That’s a welcome change from recent St. Louis managers.

Thanks for reading …


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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.