I know that you guys need another sabermetric statistic introduced to you about as much as you need more Jose Lima in your life, but here I am anyways. I want to explain the usefulness of a statistic that you don’t often see. This particular statistic is a Baseball Prospectus invention, “Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement”. Thanks to the wonder of acronyms, we can discard one of the bulkiest names in all of statistics in favor of SNLVAR.
The statistic itself is much simpler than its name suggests. In a nutshell, SNLVAR measures wins above replacement level for a pitcher; it avoids the noise of Wins Above Replacement Level (WARP, another BP invention) because it doesn’t take offense or defense into account. Considering some pitcher’s hit much better – like Dontrelle Willis – or worse – like Brett Myers– than others, it’s good to be able to separate those items out if need be.
Replacement level is measured for SNLVAR the same way it is measured for Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), as explained by Keith Woolner in Baseball Prospectus 2002 and in Baseball Between the Numbers. Essentially, replacement level pitchers make up 20 percent of the total starts in the league, which gives you a figure to compare to the league average. Here’s an excerpt from BBTN with the replacement-level Run Average formula:
“When we look at the remaining 20 percent of starts – those not made by any of the team’s top five starters – and compare their collective performance to the league average, we get the following formula:
Replacement-level RA = 1.37 x League RA – 0.66
…where RA is Run Average, like the familiar ERA concept except that it includes all runs allowed. This formula does a credible job of estimating replacement level throughout the modern era…”
This formula gives SNLVAR the jump point it needs to measure from replacement level in a given season. Not only is SNLVAR measuring from replacement level, but it adjusts for strength of lineups faced. This keeps pitchers who have only faced soft-hitting lineups out of the top of the rankings. The “support neutral” portion simply means that the run support the pitcher receives is not a factor in how many wins they are worth according to the statistic.
You want to think of SNLVAR in the same way as VORP, except in terms of wins. In this way, it is more useful than VORP is for pitchers. Now that the name hopefully seems less bulky – after all, it does explain everything the statistic is showing you, doesn’t it? – let’s move on to an example.
The Mets rotation has had a great deal of overhaul in just the past season, and it also makes a wonderful example for SNLVAR. Take a look at this table with Games Started, Innings Pitched and SNLVAR, starting with the 2005 season:
Pitcher GS IP SNLVAR
Tom Glavine 33 211.1 5.4
Pedro Martinez 31 217.0 7.6
Kris Benson 28 173.1 3.4
Victor Zambrano 27 166.1 3.0
Kaz Ishii 16 91.0 0.6
Jae Seo 14 90.1 3.5
Aaron Heilman 7 108.0 0.9
Steve Trachsel 6 37.0 0.7
To give you some perspective on how many wins is high, Roger Clemens led the majors in SNLVAR in 2005 with a 9.4 figure, Tom Glavine ranked twenty-second overall with his 5.4 number, and the last score above 0.0 is ranked 227. The worst starter in all of baseball last year was Joe Kennedy, at least in his sixteen Colorado starts. Old friend Jose Lima had the worst figure among starters who stayed in the rotation all year, at -1.1 below replacement level.
As you can see, Glavine and Pedro Martinez (ranked seventh) had rankings in line with their reputations. Kris Benson’s 3.4 SNLVAR is in the same range as starters such as Jason Johnson and Horacio Ramirez; capable back of the rotation guys – at least in 2005 – but nothing spectacular. Jae Seo appears to be the most underutilized portion of the starting pitching resources from the year before, as his prorated SNLVAR would be tops on the staff. His 2006 performance disagrees with that assessment though, so it might not be all bad that he wasn’t used more often. Here’s the same table with the 2006 starters:
Pitcher GS IP SNLVAR
Tom Glavine 26 160.2 4.0
Steve Trachsel 24 135.1 2.8
Pedro Martinez 20 122.0 3.6
Orlando Hernandez 14 79.1 1.6
Alay Soler 8 45.0 0.6
John Maine 8 50.1 1.9
Brian Bannister 5 28.0 1.1
Victor Zambrano 5 21.1 0.1
Jose Lima 4 17.1 -0.6
Mike Pelfrey 4 21.1 0.2
Jeremi Gonzalez 3 14.0 0.1
(note: figures do not reflect Hernandez’s start on Sunday)
Interestingly enough, the crop is not as strong looking as the 2005 version. This has more to do with the number of injuries on the staff, and the poor quality of replacements at certain points in the season. Alay Soler didn’t add much in his eight starts, and I don’t think I need to discuss how much Lima Time was unappreciated. Geremi Gonzalez and Mike Pelfrey added essentially replacement level performances in their short time filling on the staff, and Victor Zambrano was worth the same as a starter before his season-ending injury. John Maine and Brian Bannister have certainly made themselves valuable to the team in the short time they’ve been there, as has El Duque.
Even though the 2006 version initially looks like the weaker of two staffs according to SNLVAR – only 20.4 SNLVAR in a prorated 162 games versus the 33.4 produced by the 2005 pitchers — the final product of the top five is worth basically the same. The top 5 by SNLVAR in 2005 were worth a prorated 27 SNLVAR, while the 2006 rotation is worth 25. A healthy Pedro would certainly iron out that small difference, and would make October much easier to deal with. And now that Lima and Gonzalez are no longer around, and Brian Bannister and Mike Pelfrey are the most likely replacements, chances are good those figures would improve substantially. To put it bluntly, I wouldn’t worry about the rotation come crunch time.