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