Craig Counsell signed a 5-year, $40 million contract with his rival Chicago Cubs on November 6th. That contract started off a chain of conversations about the value of Major League Baseball managers. How much control and effect do these managers have on a game or grown adults playing a game? What makes Craig Counsell worth that much while Bruce Bochy, a World Series-winning manager, is making less than Counsell? Bob Melvin is making $4 million to manage the San Francisco Giants, a team that didn't make the playoffs this year.
We as fans can't tell why a manager is good. Bruce Bochy has been heralded for his calm, cool, and collected approach to the game. Alex Cora, when he won the World Series, was touted for being a fiery, intense guy who could get players riled up. Each manager is vastly different from another, and there are no true, quantifiable stats that allow us to calculate a manager's impact on the game.
Oliver Marmol has been reamed up and down for the last 9 months on his performance in 2023. Whether it be his poor communication skills, his anger towards umpires, or the team's underperformance, Oli has received more criticism than a politician.
His managerial seat is probably warm, but he is by no means going to be fired until at least the 2024 Trade Deadline. If the next season goes poorly, Marmol will not be back in 2025 at the helm. The question remains: how did Marmol do in situations that he had at least some control over in 2023?
I will take a look at six different metrics to see how the Cardinals performed in those arenas where Marmol had at least some power. How did the team's final record compare to their Pythagorean record and their preseason predictions? How did Marmol do in his challenges when he used them? How did the Cardinals perform in 1-run games? How often did Marmol use a player on zero days of rest? Lastly, how did the Cardinals do in extra-inning games? Mind you, I'm trying to turn a subjective notion into an objective reality; that's a challenging task.
Let's find out if Marmol truly was a bad manager!
The Cardinals were projected to finish the 2023 season with a record of 92-70 by ESPN, 87-75 by Sporting News, and 85-77 by Fangraphs. That gives them an average win-loss record of 88-74 by preseason projections, not a bad record by any means, but a record that should have won the National League Central Division.
Instead of finishing close to 90 wins in 2023, the Cardinals surpassed 90 losses for the first time since 1990. They were 17 games below their average preseason projections with a 71-91 season, good for last place in a middling division.
Additionally, the Cardinals' Pythagorean record was 71-91. According to Sports Reference, the Pythagorean winning percentage is "an estimate of a team's winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed." This formula typically tells how lucky or unlucky a team was during the season. Given the fact that the Cardinals' regular season record and Pythagorean record are identical, they were neither lucky nor unlucky throughout the season.
Preseason projections for the team's record were not met in 2024. Due to that fact, Marmol did not do a good job; however, there are many factors that can play a role in a team's success or lack thereof in the regular season.
Marmol's Challenge Rate
Replay review has been in baseball since 2008 when umpires could dispute certain calls. Managers were given one challenge per game starting in the 2014 season, and they could garner additional challenges if the initial one was successful.
Replay reviews are a direct way in which a manager can have an effect on the game. The more successful a manager is with his challenges, the more calls that will go the team's way. In 2023, Oliver Marmol won 24 out of 46 challenges for a 52.2% success rate. He was also ejected 6 times, double his total in 2022. For comparison, Davey Martinez of the Nationals had a 75.86% overturn rate and Dusty Baker had a 64.29% overturn rate, both tops in their respective leagues. Marmol was far below average with his challenges this past season.
Extra Inning Games
The Cardinals played 12 extra-inning games this year. They had an even split, 6-6. The Redbirds scored 52 runs and allowed 54 runs in these extra-inning games. The Cardinals were tied for 17th with the Dodgers in all of baseball in extra inning winning percentages. Interestingly enough, not a single American League West team had a record above .500 in extra-inning games. A .500 record in extra-inning games is perfectly fine, and the team's success in these twelve games is not indicative of Marmol's failure to manage.
Pitching on Short Rest
One of the primary jobs of a Major League Baseball manager is to set his players and coaches up for success. As with any other business, the manager is responsible for helping his or her employees perform well. In baseball, a manager can set his pitchers up for success by giving them ample rest and ensuring they are ready to go on any given day.
Historically, the more rest a pitcher gets, the better he performs. In 2023, Marmol had pitchers go without rest in 82 games, 33 of those were moments when a pitcher finished the game. Relief pitchers in those instances finished with a 4-8 record, a 5.42 ERA, a 1.434 WHIP, and a 2.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Of all game-level splits for pitchers, the 5.42 ERA is second worst only to 6+ days of rest for a starter (5.59 ERA). Andre Pallante was used most often in games with zero-days rest (17.2 innings). That could explain his poor numbers in 2023.
I created this spreadsheet to show how each individual team fared when using pitchers on zero days of rest. I included the team, how many games featured pitchers on zero-days rest, and the team ERA in those situations. The Cardinals had the 26th-best team ERA in relievers who pitched with no rest. Marmol could have given his relievers more days of rest in between appearances, thus increasing their chances of success.
1-run games are where good managers shine; they are able to work in tough situations and put players in the best places for them to succeed, thus leading the team as a whole to victory. While 1-run game records are very fickle and liable to change year to year, there is still some validity in reviewing this stat to see how the manager performed in these vital situations.
In 2023, the Cardinals had a 17-26 record (.395 winning percentage) in one-run games. They allowed 173 runs and scored 164 runs. For context, the Texas Rangers had the best one-run record in MLB history in 2016 with a 36-11 (.766 winning percentage) record. Teams such as the Royals (.512), White Sox (.388), and even Rockies (.489) all had better winning percentages in one-run games than the Cardinals last year. Without accounting for annual variance in this statistic, Marmol did not do well managing one-run games in 2023.
Using the team's record in one-run games and extra-inning games, the frequency with which Marmol used pitchers on zero-days rest, Marmol's success rate with challenges, and the team's actual record compared to their preseason predictions and Pythagorean record, we can determine how well he did in the season. These metrics are some of the statistics that a manager has an effect on. Marmol failed at most of these metrics, and the team therefore fell far short of their expectations.
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