A year ago the Milwaukee Brewers and manager Craig Counsell bullpened their way to the best record in the National League and Game 7 of the NLCS. It worked so well the team is planning to use the same strategy this season. They did not make any rotation additions over the winter despite seemingly having a spot for another starting pitcher.
When your pitching plan revolves around the bullpen, depth is important, and the Brewers lost an important depth reliever Friday afternoon. Hard-throwing righty Bobby Wahl managed to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while throwing a pitch. Here's the video:
A baseball player tearing his ACL is not all that uncommon in and of itself. In Wahl's case, he managed to tear it while throwing a pitch, which is extreme rare. How rare? On Sunday Brewers GM David Stearns told reporters, including Fox Sports Wisconsin's Sophie Minnaert, that Wahl is only the third pitcher in MLB's central injury database to tear the ACL in his push-off knee. This injury is one of the rarest in baseball history.
The Brewers acquired Wahl from the Mets in the Keon Broxton trade a few weeks back and MLB.com currently ranks him as Milwaukee's 26th best prospect. Here's a snippet of their scouting report:
Finally healthy, Wahl sat at 95-96 mph and topped out at 98 with his high-spin heater while making seven appearances out of the Mets' bullpen. His power curveball in the mid-80s plays above average and is a true swing-and-miss pitch, though at times it varies in terms of shape and bite. Wahl also has feel for an average cutter that hovers around 89-90 mph and mixes in the occasional changeup, a distant fourth pitch.
Wahl, 26, struck out 73 batters in 45 Triple-A innings last season, or 42.7 percent of the batters he faced. His swing-and-miss rate hovered around 20 percent as well. The strikeout and swing-and-miss numbers were truly elite.
The Brewers have had success turning pitchers with similar scouting reports (Corey Knebel, most notably) into lockdown high-leverage relievers in recent years. Wahl was set to compete for an Opening Day bullpen spot this spring, but, even if he didn't win one, he figured to be first in line for a call-up whenever pitching reinforcements were inevitably needed.
Stearns did not give a timetable for Wahl's return, though a torn ACL will almost certainly cost him most if not all of the 2019 season. Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman tore his ACL in spring training a few years ago and made it back in September. Wahl could be on the team's radar as a September call-up, assuming his rehab goes well.