Playing with Numbers: The 'real' value of relief pitchers

When it comes to the bullpen in fantasy baseball, it's not always easy to identify the best in the business. Guys like Francisco Rodriguez are going to grab your attention, thanks to a high save total and a low ERA (35 saves, 1.88 ERA) but it's not always that simple. If I asked you whether you'd rather have had Brian Wilson or Dan Wheeler on your fantasy team since April, you could make a legitimate argument either way. Sure, Wilson leads the National League with 24 saves, but Wheeler has three saves and a lower ERA (2.43 as compared to Wilson's 4.37) in more innings of work.

That's the problem with only looking at the number of saves when judging relievers. It doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, you're going to want saves if it is one of only four or five categories that make up the final analysis of your team's success or failure. However, not all saves are created equal. There's a world of difference between a closer starting the ninth inning with a three-run lead and entering into a no-outs, bases-loaded jam with only a one-run cushion. Though both situations may result in a save, your closer can do so by giving up two runs and loading the bases in the first scenario (earning a save, but playing havoc with your WHIP and ERA). In the second example, nothing short of perfection will do. So how can we judge the value of each relief appearance?