THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Before the start of a three-game weekend series with the Phillies at Busch Stadium, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters that Oli Marmol would return as manager in 2024. This set off an angry reaction among fans – at least those who go on social media to vent their frustration. As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on the decision.
1. It’s no surprise. Mozeliak has made a long-term investment in Marmol, starting with Oli’s rise through the team’s minor-league system as a player, coach and manager. That was followed by a major-league coaching apprenticeship that started in 2017. Marmol served as first base coach for two seasons, then was promoted to bench coach before 2019. You could see where this was going. Step by step, Mozeliak put Marmol next in line to become Cardinals manager. The graduation came sooner than anticipated when Mozeliak had a falling out with manager Mike Shildt after the 2021 season. Marmol was Mozeliak’s only candidate for the manager’s gig. After hiring and firing two managers since the All-Star break – Mike Matheny and Shildt – Mozeliak wasn’t going to sack Marmol after two seasons on the job. Erasing another manager would only lead to more withering criticism of Mozeliak for his failure to come up with the right manager to lead the Cardinals. So he’s sticking with Marmol, who will enter this final year of his contract in 2024.
2. Mozeliak’s loyalty to Marmol is obvious. But what happens if the Cardinals begin flopping around again, early in 2024? Would Mozeliak make a change, or just let Marmol ride it out until the end of the ‘24 season? Another scenario is keeping Marmol in place through 2025 – the final season of Mozeliak’s two-year contract extension issued by chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. In this scenario, management (at some point next season) would extend Marmol’s contract by a year. And after the completion of 2025 – depending on the team’s results – Mozeliak’s successor could choose his own manager as part of the regime change. But that also depends on Mozeliak’s successor. Will the Cardinals promote within – to continue the comfortable buddy-buddy system – or go outside the organization to find a new director of baseball ops to implement a more creative and aggressive vision?
3. Marmol’s future is directly related to Mozeliak’s actions in the upcoming offseason. If Mozeliak wants to make his manager look better, he’ll do that by improving this team’s pitching. Both starters and relievers. This season the St. Louis pitching staff ranks 27th among the 30 teams in overall Win Probability Added. The St. Louis starting pitchers rank 29th among 30 in WPA. DeWitt is completing his 28th year of Cardinals’ ownership. The 2023 starting pitching currently ranks 27th among the 28 DeWitt Era teams in single-season ERA, 5.00. And the starters’ WPA is dead last in a season among DeWitt’s 28 Cardinal teams.
4. How does a manager salvage something good from such a drastically poor pitching performance? The answer: he doesn’t. And Marmol shouldn’t be blamed for getting stuck with a flimsy rotation, and a bullpen that couldn’t handle the extra strain caused by the rotation’s weakness. Plus the poor organizational pitching depth left the 2024 Cardinals without MLB-caliber pitching solutions within the system. That’s why it’s imperative to Mozeliak to give his chosen manager a substantial upgrade in the most important area of the team. But if Mozeliak strengthens the rotation and fortifies the bullpen and the Cardinals still underperform in 2024, I don’t see how Marmol makes it through. Then again, I’m not John Mozeliak. “Mo” is the one with his reputation on the line.
5. Will Marmol’s presence be a liability in maintaining high-level fan support? It’s a big question that can’t be answered right now. But we’ll get a much better idea when the Cardinals begin their push for full season-ticket renewals, season-ticket packages. We’ll see if at least some ticket prices will go down to retain as many customers as possible. But it would be naive for anyone to push back on the idea that Marmol could be bad for business. After a historically poor season, maintaining the status quo doesn’t do much for the offseason marketing. Then again, DeWitt and Mozeliak can change that – take the focus off the status quo – by remaking the pitching staff with a series of popular, high-profile moves.
6. After a strong start to his managerial term, the view of Marmol turned in a hurry after he brutally mismanaged Game 1 of the 2022 wild-card series against the Phillies. With closer Ryan Helsley imploding on the mound in the ninth inning, Marmol sat and watched as a 2-0 lead went up in a blaze. The Cardinals never recovered, and lost two straight to the Phillies in an early elimination. And that was followed by this year’s disastrous campaign. The Cardinals’ current .443 winning percentage on the season would be the third-worst for the team in a full season during the expansion era, which began in 1961. Not counting the 1995 season and the shortened schedule, the 2023 Cardinals have only outperformed the 1978 Cardinals (.426) and the 1990 Cardinals (.432). Those rankings could change over the fina 13 games.
7. I find it hard to believe that Marmol’s coaching staff will return intact for 2024. I know I holler about this all of the time, and I apologize if that annoys some of you. But after the dugout staff oversaw the decline of this team’s defense, baserunning and situational-hitting fundamentals. There must be accountability. This cannot be allowed to pass with a cursory “try to do better” meeting. If the Cardinals decline to shake things up after this wrecked season, what message does this send to the fans?
8. Marmol seemingly has a good bond with his players. He ignited controversy early in the season (Tyler O’Neill, Willson Contreras) but we have to remember something about that: the players who matter in the clubhouse were in favor of the manager’s decision to call out O’Neill. And Marmol (and Mozeliak) had support of the pitchers who matter when they decided to scapegoat the catcher Contreras for the weak pitching. Marmol wisely understands that it’s important to have the most influential players on his side. And that has given him extra security. It’s a factor in Mozeliak’s decision to keep Marmol in place.
9. Hypothetical question: if the Cardinals fired Oli Marmol after the season (again, they won’t) would he soon land another gig as a major-league manager? That’s an easy one to answer, yes? Of course not. Shildt was fired after the 2021 season despite (A) leading the Cardinals to the playoffs for three straight years following a three-season absence from the postseason; (B) guiding the Cardinals through an especially turbulent 2020 season that had several Covid-based delays; (C) winning a playoff round and advancing to the NLCS in 2019; (C) being voted NL Manager of the Year in 2019 and finishing third in the balloting in ‘21.
Shildt had a .559 regular-season winning percentage as the STL manager. That’s considerably higher than Marmol’s .511 winning percentage with the same job. Shildt hasn’t been hired to manage a big-league team since the Cardinals let him go.
10. The Cardinals must do something to reduce roster clutter. Or call it roster redundancy. That’s primarily up to Mozeliak but Marmol doesn’t help by overestimating some of his own players. And while platoon-split advantages can be helpful, Marmol is too willing to sacrifice defense to move players around to get a possible edge in hitter vs. pitcher matchups. An example: Alec Burleson. This season – partially because of injuries to other players – Burleson has been given 343 plate appearances. He ranks 10th among qualifying Cardinals in onbase percentage, slugging and OPS. And per wRC+, he’s 14 percent below league average offensively. Burleson, who bats left, has been better against righty pitchers, but his OPS against them (.691) is nothing special.
Moving On …
WE ARE ALL JORDAN WALKER FANS: As you know, Walker powered a game-winning solo homer in the bottom of the eighth Sunday, rescuing the Cardinals after the Phillies had tied it up 5-5 in the top of the inning. Walker’s blow delivered a 6-5 win and enabled the Cardinals to avoid being swept in the three-game series.
Walker went through a freeze offensively in July, batting .209 with a .609 and three homers in 25 games. He’s been much better since then, hitting .279 with a .351 OBP and .493 slug (.843 OPS) since Aug. 1.
This includes his .302 average, .922 OPS and 147 wRC+ in September – meaning that he’s 47 percent above league average offensively this month.
Walker’s recovery from an extended slump was just what you’d hope to see from him – that he would learn about the pitchers’ approach in getting him out, make the necessary changes, and adjust from game to game. Walker His knowledge and maturity are especially impressive for such a young big-league hitter. And you never have to wonder about Walker’s work ethic; it’s golden. His determination to improve defensively in right field is a reaffirmation of that.
Walker spent May at Triple A Memphis, reworking his swing. After a good June, Walker dropped to 34 percent below league average in July, per wRC+.
But if we combine the other four months of the season – March/April, June, August and September – here’s what we come up with: a .293 average, .363 OBP, .482 slug an .845 OPS. Based on wRC+, Walker has been 32 percent above league average offensively in those four combined months of hitting.
On the season, Walker is batting .272 with a .338 onbase percentage and .450 slugging percentage for a .788 OPS. He’s homered 16 times and has 16 doubles. That’s probably better than we assume.
In single-season performance, here’s where Walker currently ranks among Cardinal rookies age 21 or younger in franchise history:
– 2nd in homers to Albert Pujols (2001.)
– 3rd in slugging percentage to Pujols (2001) and Stan Musial (1942.)
– 4th in batting average to Pujols, Musial (1942) and Rogers Hornsby (1916.)
– 4th in onbase percentage to Pujols, Musial and Hornsby.
– 4th in OPS to Pujols, Musial and Hornsby.
– 4th in extra-base hits to Pujols, Musial and Hornsby.
“He’s definitely on a path to be great,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told reporters after Sunday’s game. “He’s going to help us win for a long time.”
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: After dropping two of three games to Philadelphia, the Cardinals are 32-42 at Busch Stadium this season for a .432 home winning percentage. A .432 winning percentage would be the worst at home by a Cardinals team in 28 seasons of Bill DeWitt Jr.’s ownership term. And not counting the 1994 season that was cut short by a labor dispute, the only Cardinals teams with a lower home winning percentage during the expansion era were the 1990 Cardinals (.420) and the 1970 Cardinals (also .420) … The Cardinals have seven home games remaining on the schedule: four with Milwaukee starting tonight, and then the final three games of the season vs. Cincinnati … The Cardinals are 8-5 in their last 13 games, 10-7 in their last 17 and 8-7 in September.
BROKEN CLUTCH: Since the start of August the Cardinals are batting .211 with runners in scoring position which ranks last in the NL. Across the majors, only Oakland (.203) has done worse with RISP over the last two months. Since the start of August the Cardinals’ batting average in high-leverage situations (.183) is the poorest among NL teams and 28th overall. And for the season, the Cardinals have the NL’s worst batting average (.195) with the bases loaded. Only Oakland .188 has failed more often in bases-loaded situations.
TYLER O’NEILL, SHUT DOWN: This time it’s a sprained foot and he’ll miss the remainder of the season. Over the last two seasons O’Neill has missed 143 in-season game days because of injuries. That doesn’t even include the many times he’s been held out of the lineup, or been a late scratch, for precautionary injury-related reasons.
Since his giant break-out season in 2021, O’Neill has averaged only 84 games played in his last two seasons. And since he put up excellent numbers in 2021, this is what O’Neill has done in 649 plate appearances over the last two seasons: .229 average, .310 OBP, .397 slug, .707 OPS, 23 homers and 79 RBI.
Over the last two seasons Tommy Edman has hit more home runs (25) than O’Neill. And over the last two seasons combined here are the home-run counts by former Cardinals in comparison to O’Neill:
Adolis Garcia, 61
Marcell Ozuna, 58
Patrick Wisdom, 46
Lane Thomas, 42
Randy Arozarena, 42
Randal Grichuk, 34
Tommy Pham 33
Over the last two seasons, among 237 hitters with at least 237 plate appearances, here’s where O’Neill ranks in various offensive categories among those with at least 645 plate appearances:
* Tied for 124th in homers
* Tied for 194th in batting average
* Tied for 156th in onbase percentage
* Tied for 155th in slugging
* Tied for 166th in OPS
* Tied for 189th in RBI
WELCOME BACK TO ST. LOUIS: The Brewers are in town for the next four games; they haven’t been in St. Louis since May 15-16-17 earlier this season. The Cardinals are 3-3 against the Crew in 2023. Milwaukee leads the NL Central by a comfortable margin
— The Brewers are hot, having gone 23-11 since Aug. 9 to open a 6 and ½ game over the second-place Cubs. They’ve been in first place continuously since Aug. 3 and have been in at least a tie for first on 54 game days during a 58-game stretch.
— During their 23-11 stretch the Brewers have averaged 5.2 runs per game and posted a 3.02 ERA.
— Brandon Woodruff was out from April 8 through Aug. 5 with a shoulder injury. He has a 2.13 ERA in eight starts since returning. Since Woodruff rejoined the rotation Milwaukee starters have the best ERA (3.29) in the majors.
— The Brewers offense has been up and down all season and is below-average in more than a few statistical errors. But here’s what they’re doing extremely well: hitting with runners in scoring position. During their 23-11 run they rank 29th in homers but are 11th overall in runs scored. Why? It’s their success with RISP. When batting with runners in scoring position since Aug. 9, the Crew is hitting .300 (4th in MLB), has a .404 OBP (1st), a .473 slug (7th), a .877 OPS (3rd) and has the most doubles (24.)
— The Brewers have been boosted by the trade-deadline additions of Mark Canha and Carlos Santana. Canha is hitting .319 with a .885 OPS as a Brewer. But during the team’s 23-11 stretch Vanha has hit .358 with five homers, 24 RBI and a 1.000 OPS. And after a slow start for the Crew, Santana is batting .299/.392/.483 in his last 17 games with four homers and 13 RBI.
ONE MORE THING: Best of luck tonight to Adam Wainwright as he goes after that elusive career victory No. 200. Waino hasn’t faced the Brewers in 2023 but had a respectable 4.05 ERA against them last season in 28 innings.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.