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Saturday SOC: Reacting to Oli Marmol’s First Few Weeks

How is the Cardinals’ rookie manager doing? Pretty good so far!

St. Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Happy Saturday everyone!

It’s Saturday. It’s early season. Stats are meaningless. And I’m crazy busy. (That’s why you had no Saturday reading material last week. Sorry about that. I wasn’t going to let it happen two weeks in a row.)

All of that means it’s time for another Saturday Stream of Consciousness post – my first of the new season! That comes with some ground rules, in case this is your first foray onto the site on the weekend. The first rule of SOC is: This is a stream of consciousness post! I will use some stats. I will not go digging around for definitive proof. If you expect that from me, come back on Wednesdays; that’s when I put real effort into analysis.

Second, since I’m not trying to do a deep analytical dive, the signature of my profile (are those still a thing after the update?) very much holds true: I might be wrong. These are just my thoughts and observations and they might or might not be supported by real evidence. If you disagree or want to go hunting for real info, feel free to do so in the comments. I welcome that with these posts!

Now that I’ve sufficiently propped up my word count, let’s let my mind go. The subject? Oli Marmol! How’s he doing? What do you like about his managerial style? What don’t you like?

My gut feeling: he’s been pretty good! Not perfect but a notable step up from Mike Shildt and about 15 steps up from Mike Matheny.

That seems to be the quiet consensus. I haven’t noticed the normal level of angsty whining on Cardinals Twitter or here in the VEB comments sections when it’s come to bullpen moves, lineup changes, or roster usage.

It helps that the Cardinals are 7-4 entering the Friday Apple TV game against the Reds and sitting in first place in the NL Central. Sure, the competition hasn’t been all that great so far – except for the Brewers – but wins are wins and that puts everyone in a good mood.

Still, early-season games often find themselves under more scrutiny than random outings in mid-June and the lack of vitriolic commentary on mediums that amplify loud voices is notable. Fans seem to be pretty happy with Marmol so far.

Here are five things I’ve noticed so far. Some are positives that Marmol should continue doing. Others are not necessarily things he’s getting wrong but are places for some constructive development.

1. Continue scheduling Yadier Molina and Andrew Knizner.

So far, Andrew Knizner and Yadier Molina are in something of a time-share at the catcher spot. That includes, in Marmol’s words, “scheduled” days off and days on for Molina. So far, the division is about 60% Molina, and 40% Knizner. Molina has appeared in 8 of the Cards’ 11 games, with just 7 starts. Knizner has 6 appearances with 4 starts.

I have not yet been able to determine the logic for who starts. Molina will catch Waino’s starts so the two of them can rack up their catcher/pitcher battery stats. Otherwise, this does not seem like a “designated catcher” situation. Knizner has caught Hicks, Matz, Mikolas, and Hudson so far.

If this trend continues, Molina will end up with 102 games started. Knizner will land the other 60. That would be Molina’s lowest number of GS’s since 2007 but it isn’t that far from what his body was able to handle in both ’19 (108 GS) and ’21 (118 GS). This seems like the perfect way to keep Molina healthy and strong for the season. We’ll have to see if it contributes to better offense from him. So far that hasn’t been the case. Molina’s wRC+ is currently -8. Knizner has a much stronger start at +184. Molina will improve but I fully expect Kiz to have a better offensive season.

2. Stick with the plan at DH.

The Cardinals entered the season wanting to create a platoon at designated hitter. They originally imagined Yepez and a lefty, who would become Corey Dickerson, in that role. The addition of Cardinals legend Albert Pujols changed that equation. Yepez went to Memphis. Pujols entered the lineup.

Katie Woo reported in The Athletic that the Cards were pretty specific with Pujols about the role he would play on the roster. The plan was to emulate the Dodgers, who played Pujols against lefties and occasional soft-throwing righties. So far, Marmol hasn’t followed that prescription. Pujols has more PAs against righties than lefties – 14 to 10. Dickerson, who should be on the heavy side of the platoon, has just 17 PAs total on the season. Nootbaar has another 5. In total, that’s about a 50/50 split at DH between Pujols and the lefties.

Considering his recent history, that’s just too many plate appearances against right-handed pitchers for Pujols. While he’s been pretty good overall so far, guess where all his production has come? Yup. Against lefties. His wRC+ against lefties is a ridiculous +505 with a .907 wOBA. Against righties? +5 wRC+ and .164 wOBA. Stick with the plan, Marmol. It’s better for everyone.

3. Use the bench strategically.

For me, the playing time split between Dickerson/Noot and Pujols should go beyond the player who starts the game. So far, among the group of Sosa, Noot, Dickerson, and Pujols, the Cardinals have just 2 pinch hit plate appearances. In 11 games. The National League is so over!

It doesn’t need to be this way, though. If it’s best to start a right-handed DH against a lefty, then it’s best to use a right-handed pinch hitter later in the game if a lefty enters. The flip side is also true. The platoon splits are what they are. Play the advantages. Plus, it helps keep everyone sharp.

The counterpoint here is that pinch hitting is hard and players generally suck at it. That’s worth noting. Still, considering how extreme the platoon splits are for Dickerson and Pujols, it’s probably better to pinch hit than to let either face a bad matchup.

Just to make sure I’m being clear, this goes both ways. I’ve been accused of being a “hater” for advocating for a strict platoon, despite the obvious statistical evidence readily available for all to see. Dickerson is starting on Friday against a righty. Later in the game, if the Reds bring in a lefty to face him, guess who should come out and who should come in? Absolutely give that PA to Pujols and watch him feast.

This goes beyond just the DH platoon. I would like to see Marmol more routinely sub out Bader, Edman, Yadi, and DeJong in specific matchups at specific points in the game. Sometime I’ll detail when I would do that, but that’s one of those non-Saturday analysis posts…

4. Stop testing out the bullpen and start using the best arms.

The bullpen has been pretty darn good for the Cardinals so far. Credit to Marmol there. The problem is that it’s somewhat upside down from the way it should be. When it comes to bullpen usage, you want to give as many innings as possible to the most talented arms and limit your usage of the more replacement-level hurlers.

Here are the Cardinals relievers sorted by innings pitched:

Aaron Brooks – 5.2
Giovanny Gallegos – 5.1
Andre Pallante – 5.0
Drew VerHagen – 4.2

Then Cabrera, Helsley, Whitley, Wittgren, Woodford, and McFarland. Basically, all the new, inexperienced arms are getting all the innings (plus Gallegos) and all the established, proven arms are lumped into occasional shorter-outing relief roles.

There are a couple of things going on here. First, VerHagen, Pallante, and Brooks were on a starter’s schedule this spring. With the starters still working up to full speed, Marmol has gone to the bullpen early and used his multi-inning swingmen for multi-inning outings. Can’t complain about that. I’ve been advocating for it for two years. Second, I think the Cards are wanting to get a look at some of these new pitchers – Pallante and Brooks in particular – before rosters contract and they have to make a decision on who to send to Memphis.

The club is still a little too much in spring evaluation mode. That needs to change soon; the results are good but they need to better utilize their experienced, quality bullpen arms. I wouldn’t complain at all if the multiple innings that VerHagen, Brooks, and Pallante are getting now end up going to Helsley, Cabrera, and Whitley by mid-May.

5. Don’t be overly swayed by small sample sizes.

Last one and I’ll make this quick. So far, Marmol has not been bothered by poor performances over small sample size. He installed Carlson in the leadoff role and has left him there, despite his early-season struggles and Edman raking. Yes, he gave him a little get-right mental day and Tommy Two Bags slid back up in the lineup. That was just a day. Carlson was right back at leadoff and looks better since his return. That’s not freaking out over a poor start; that’s just good managing. Leading off with Edman is just bad managing, regardless of how well he is hitting.

Marmol has tinkered a little more with the bottom of the lineup based on who is hot and who is not, but that’s the place to do it. I don’t have any problem with that. Stick with the plan most of the time. Stick with the core lineup. Let the team play it out. Good things will happen.

As I’ve said a half-dozen times already since the end of the lockout: this is a good team! Let them play, use strategic matchups, use your best players, win a lot of games. It’s a simple formula. But it works.

That’s as much consciousness as my mind can stream on a Friday night. Enjoy your weekend!