A Masterclass in Load Management: Oli Marmol


I'm just going to come right out and say it. #STLCards manager, Oliver Marmol, had one hell of a weekend in Chicago. I'm going to call it his Master Class in Load Management.


Coming into the weekend, there was a litany of articles discussing the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals had an innings problem in the rotation and bullpen. The problem essentially was this question: "Where are the Cardinals going to go to cover the innings they will need to cover this year with the players that they currently have?" The implied question is: "Will they have to add as they did last year and will they do it soon enough to make a difference?" That question was more than implied in the Best Podcast In Baseball (find the one entitled "Deja June" if it doesn't pop up immediately) with Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson last week. Katie Woo of The Athletic also wrote about it here (subscription required).


In all honesty, I'm not sure who got to it all first. Bernie Miklasz (at Scoops With Danny Mac) and Benjamin Hochman (at the Post Dispatch) had it first. Then came articles by Rick Hummel (The Commish at the Post Dispatch) and Derrick Goold (also at the Post Dispatch), not only once but twice (the second one), following up over the weekend during the series. Lastly, Miklasz hit the topic up again a few days later. Like I said, a litany of articles. Then again, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Cardinals coverage on the internet. I love it. And then there's me, not a part of that elite coverage by any means...however, to humblebrag a bit on this one here's my article about it...from before Thanksgiving.


Those foreboding posts were made prior to the Cardinals departing for The Windy City to begin a gauntlet of 5 games in 4 days on zero days rest in a ballpark known for it's unpredictability on what to expect in terms of whether it will be a hitter's park or pitcher's park on that given day. The Cardinals lost starter Jack Flaherty to injury prior to the season beginning. He was not back yet for this series, and still isn't. They lost Jordan Hicks and Steven Matz to injury in the past week or two prior to this. Dakota Hudson threw 104 pitches in the Wednesday night game, in which the Cardinals swept the San Diego Padres. That left them with just Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright in a 5-game set over 4 days (just over 100 hours) in The Windy City. What were they to do? What a predicament for the first year manager, Oliver Marmol.

 

The moment entering the Chicago series was not when Oli Marmol began his master class in load management for his pitchers, however. We need to rewind a few days to see the mastermind in action - so to speak.


Thanks to Fangraphs, we fans can get a one image glimpse into how teams have managed pitching over a week's time frame - any week's time frame so long as you know the end date you're looking for! It's a great tool. (Take a look and I'll talk about this image below the image itself.

These are the 7 days - all game days, no breaks at all - leading up to the Cardinals vs. Cubs series in Chicago from Thursday to Sunday (with a doubleheader on Saturday).


As you can see from the image above, the Cardinals had used five starters in the previous 7 games, with Packy Naughton covering 2 1/3 innings and 40 pitches of a bullpen game on Memorial Day. With the use of Dakota Hudson on Wednesday, he would not be available for any of the 5 starts in Chicago, as I previously mentioned. With Wainwright throwing 115 pitches on Tuesday, his availability before Sunday was a no...but he could cover the last of the 5 games just fine - that's what Marmol and the Cardinals did. Miles Mikolas was well set up for the Friday game. Both Mikolas and Wainwright had been going deep into games. Mikolas had averaged 6.07 innings per start in his 10 starts prior to Friday's game and Wainwright had averaged 5.9 innings per start in his 10 starts prior to Sunday's game. You could potentially push those two well over 100 pitches if need be, even with both throwing 115 in their prior outings.


The other things that stand out to me about that chart above are:

  1. Andre (Neil) Pallante was pushed to 44 pitches and then 53 pitches in two prior outings, with enough rest to pitch a Saturday game and be primed for 60+ pitches.

  2. Jake Woodford, who had been optioned to Memphis, could return for a Saturday game (doubleheaders mean a 27-man roster instead of a 26-man roster).

  3. Genesis Cabrera had some of the least work in the past week and had not pitched in the final two games of the Padres series.

  4. Gio Gallegos and Ryan Helsley were both coming off of one day's rest after back-to-back games.

  5. Kodi Whitley had thrown 31 pitches in the contest prior to the Cubs series.

  6. TJ McFarland and Nick Wittgren were plenty fresh.

  7. Drew VerHagenonly threw 35 pitches all week but had thrown back-to-back games entering the Cubs series.

Now let's look at what transpired in the Cubs series. Notice the brilliant monstrosity below by yours truly - covering up the Padres series so only the 4 days against Chicago are shown here.

Oli Marmol and the Cardinals management got creative with their assignments as Johan Oviedo and Zack Thompson both made their 2022 MLB debuts (Zack Thompson's actual MLB debut) in the same weekend - Congrats Zack! They also did as expected and brought Woodford back up as the 27th man for Saturday.


What stands out most to me about this graph is __-fold, and this is where the Master Class by Marmol really shines through:

  1. You can see that Marmol's thought process, knowing a doubleheader is coming, of bringing Pallante along nicely building him up in the prior week allowed Pallante to take 4 innings by throwing 60+ pitches in one of the Saturday games. That makes one of the games less of a "bullpen game" allowing him to do more with less both prior to Saturday and on Saturday - and Sunday as well.

  2. You can see that Marmol knows that he has a Monday off day, so having pitchers throw as much as they can over the series to keep everyone as fresh as possible later without multiple warm ups and sit downs and then multiple games played doesn't occur at all. Oliver Marmol throws every single pitcher on his roster for the series once.

Starting with Thursday's game, Marmol gets 80 pitches out of starter Matthew Liberatore, on normal rest, despite Liberatore not having his best stuff. He then has Nick Wittgren empty the tank by throwing 2 2/3 innings and 46 pitches to get through the 6th. He follows that up with having TJ McFarland empty the tank by throwing 27 pitches and 1 1/3 innings - a guy that 2021 Manager of the Year candidate Mike Shildt would use for a couple of pitches at a time last year because McFarland only needed a few to get the double play and get out of an inning. Then, Marmol decides to let a probably already exhausted Kodi Whitley take his lumps and throw as many pitches as necessary to end the 8th, knowing this game was probably a lost cause (despite a relatively close score). Whitley had thrown 31 pitches the day before but got out of the 8th with only 13 pitches to dispatch of 2 of the next 3 guys. The Cardinals lost this game 7-5 after a 2-run burst in the top of the 9th in an otherwise lackluster game.


In the Friday contest, Oliver Marmol sent Miles Mikolas to the mound on normal rest. Mikolas got beat around for the second game in a row but Marmol had him get through 5 innings because he knew he had to. He then used rookie Zack Thompson, in his debut, to eat the rest of the game. Thompson threw four innings to save the Cardinals' bullpen for the doubleheader that Marmol knew was coming on Saturday. Thompson needed 74 pitches to get through those 4 innings and preserve the win for the Cardinals. Marmol knew that Thompson was coming off of 2 days rest, but had only thrown 40 pitches in his prior outing. Well done Marmol!


The previous moves made by manager Oliver Marmol allowed him to set up the two Saturday games as follows: Andre Pallante and Johan Oviedo get the starts. Oviedo started game one and threw over 100 pitches going 5 innings. Pulling a play from his Thursday playbook, with the Cubs leading, Marmol turned to Jake Woodford and had him eat the rest of the game, throwing 51 pitches to eat the 6th-8th innings, saving 2 starters and 4 relievers (with 0 pitches in the 5-game series) for the final two games. Andre Pallante went as deep as he could, throwing 4 innings on 64 pitches. It was a gutsy performance that didn't look pretty at times but kept the Cardinals in the game and allowed Pallante to leave with the lead. Marmol turned to Drew VerHagen (again, he had thrown both Tuesday and Wednesday) and likely told him to put everything he had on the line, get as many innings as you can, dude. VerHagen threw 32 pitches in 1 1/3 innings, but the Cubs were able to tie it.


Seeing the Cubs with a 2-1 series lead already and a tied ball game with runners on, Marmol deviated from his plan for the first time - and saved the game and the series. Ryan Helsley was brought in to finish the 6th inning and give him two more innings (2 2/3 for Helsley) on just 40 pitches. Gio Gallegos was brought in for the 9th in Chicago - with the score tied. That kept the Cards in the game until the 10th, when they battered the Cubs' reliever for 4 runs. When Gio gave up only 1 in his two innings of work on 36 pitches, the Cardinals had tied up the series. Not only that, but Oliver Marmol had saved Adam Wainwright and one reliever (Genesis Cabrera) for the final game, a Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN contest, without having had thrown a pitch in the series. If necessary, Wittgren or McFarland or even Whitley could probably pitch on Sunday as well.


The Sunday Night Baseball game was a doozy. Waino gave up two early runs to be down 2-0 after 4 innings, but then the Cardinals stormed back for a 2-2 tie after 5. Wainwright went two more innings and departed with a 2-2 tie after 7 innings of ball throwing 102 pitches in the process. Marmol decided it was time for Genesis Cabrera to get utilized to the best of his abilities. At this point, Cabrera hadn't thrown since Memorial Day. That was 5 off days between outings for Cabrera. His arm was good and rested, and thank goodness it was. Much like the Saturday night game, extras would be needed. Cabrera allowed one run in the 8th, but the Cardinals tied it in the top of the 9th. Cabrera held the tie in the 9th. He was allowed to go back out in the 10th and held the lead again. When the Cardinals scored two in the top of the 11th for the 5-3 lead, there had to have been a thought in Marmol's head that said it's time to bring someone else in for the save. Helsely and Gio had both emptied the tank the night before, however. McFarland isn't what he was in 2021. Wittgren isn't what he was in 2019-20. None of the others had earned the trust yet, but Cabrera was already at 45 pitches. Unlike Saturday with Drew VerHagen on the bump, Oliver Marmol decided to stick with the plan of every pitcher emptying the tank before the off day and every pitcher only having to do so once in the series. And it worked. Cabrera had enough left to go 13 pitches (up to 58 for the game covering 4 innings) in the 11th for the Cardinals win and the series win.


It was an absolute Master Class in Load Management by the Cardinals skipper. Just a fabulous job. He took a series sweep in St. Louis over the San Diego Padres, while building up Pallante's arm in the process and having both Wainwright and Mikolas throw 115 pitches in their most recent outing. He took 3 of 5 in Chicago without throwing anyone on the roster more than once but having all of them throw 30+ pitches and/or multiple innings (except McFarland, who was able to get his 4 outs on 27 pitches). He emptied everyone's tanks before an off day on Monday leading into a series with the two time defending AL East champ, Tampa Bay Rays. And in the process, while picking up 6 wins in 8 games over 7 days, he leaves himself with actual MLB starter Dakota Hudson, call up reliever Jake Walsh, and likely 5 more relievers (Whitley, Wittgren, McFarland, Naughton, and VerHagen) completely fresh for Tuesday's tilt.


What. A. Frickin'. Masterful. Job.

 

Thank you to Cardinalsgifs for the cover art! It's pretty dang sweet!