Thursday, December 31, 2009

Get rich quick with bowling stocks!

Since I am incapable of making any money through my standard bowling activities (i.e., league bowling, writing about bowling, bowling spreadsheets, etc.), I decided to check out the exciting world of publicly owned and traded bowling companies. I was intrigued by a Charles Schwab quote I read on the tubes. According to Chuck:

When I got started in the business, the first bubble we had was in the spring and summer of 1961 -- the bubble of the bowling industry. Yes, bowling. B-O-W-L-I-N-G. According to industry analysts, every American, on average, was going to be bowling about two hours per week. Compute it out -- 180 million people times two hours per week, for 52 weeks ? That's a lot of bowling. And all of a sudden, it became a very valuable thing to own bowling stocks.

Is that true? Was there a bubble in bowling stocks in 1961? It seems there was. Although I am personally incapable of finding historical stock data for bowling companies traded back then, it is possible to read various news snippets of financial news from 1961. From those, it is clear that bowling stock was the hot ticket. I was able to do Google News archive search for the phrase "bowling stock", which produces a nifty bar graph showing how frequently that term has appeared in major newspapers over time. You can see from the histogram below that bowling stocks like AMF and Brunswick were in the news quite a bit during the decade of free love. In fact, the phrase was in the news more then than at any other time.

So, what's out there today for the savvy bowling investor? Would you like to buy shares of AMF? It was one of the hot stocks of the 60's. (AMF stands for American Machine and Foundry) Well, you can't. In the summer of 2001, AMF went bankrupt. Afterward, it was purchased privately, broken up, and the bowling division was sold to a private firm, Code Hennessy and Simmons, LLC.

From what I can tell, there are only a couple of options, Brunswick Corporation (BC) and Bowl America Incorporated (AMEX:BWL.A). Are these good investments? I have no idea. My success at stock picking is similar to my success at picking up spares... about 50%, so I'm not going to give any advice. I will note that if you had invested $10,000 in Bowl America in January of 1978, today, it would be worth nearly $180,000. (The company went public in 1958) That's an annual return of about 9%. What about Brunswick? Over the same time period, your 10k would have grown to around 75k. If you were lucky enough to sell your Brunswick stock at its peak in December of 2004, it would have been worth nearly $300,000. Lately, however, the company has been bleeding cash, which probably explains its precipitous drop over the last five years, but this year, it's up more than 150%.

In the end, I must admit that I have no idea if bowling is growing at a rate that would sustain substantial growth in the industry. Despite somewhat impressive 30 year returns of Bowl America and Brunswick, you should keep in mind that most of the growth can simply be attributed to time... the old buy and hold strategy. Some 30 years down the road, your investment might payoff, but it ain't no sure thing... If you had put $10,000 into AMF in 1978, today it would be worth as much as a used house ball.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bowling in Moving Pictures: A PBA record I could break

Steve Jaros bowls a 129 on television in 1992. This game is the record for the lowest score in a televised match. I am thinking of joining the PBA if only to break this record. This is a little painful to watch and far too familiar.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Rules of Bowling: Averages

When I first started writing this blog, I thought I would try (and often fail) to be humorous. It seems lately, though, that I have been in a more serious mood. So instead of making fun of some aspect of the USBC rulebook, today I'd actually like to make a suggestion for a rule change. It is not a major revision. I am not suggesting that we add an 11th pin, though a prime number of targets would be dandy. Instead, I'd like to make a case for why a change to the rule regarding the calculation of averages, and therefore handicaps, is in order. My intent is to make the game more fair for all, and it would affect everyone who bowls in a handicapped league. So in that sense, it is actually a very serious change.

In that light, I hope that somebody who has the power to change rules notices. Admittedly, I am somewhat selfishly inspired since I am going to use my own average as case and point (as I have done before), but if this has happened to me, then no doubt it has also happened to thousands of other bowlers. So, USBC Executive Team, you have some motivation to read on. For those of you who are ego-googlers, I'm talking to you Kevin Dornberger, Susan Merrill, Jim Oberholtzer, Neil Stremmel, and Pete Tredwell. Let's begin...

In scratch bowling, there is no need to keep an average. It is irrelevant to the outcome of any match. In handicapped bowling, however, an average is necessary because it establishes the skill level of a bowler. From the average, the handicap is derived. The intent of the handicap is make it possible for bad bowlers (like me) to compete with good bowlers (like you). Straight from the new rulebook, here is how averages are calculated:

It's like any old average. Sum your game scores and divide by the number of games. On the surface, this seems perfectly reasonable. The resultant value should be roughly in the middle of all of your game scores with about half of your scores falling below the average and half above. Therefore, somebody with a 170 average is better than somebody with a 150 average, right?

Wrong. In most cases, this would be true, but there are some obvious ways it could be incorrect. For example, what if the person who has averaged 150 has intentionally bowled poorly to establish a low average? This is why there is a rule against sandbagging. What if only one game has been bowled? Can we really judge the relative skill of these bowlers based only on one game?

What if 1000 games have been bowled and no sandbagging has occurred? Can you be confident that the 170 bowler is more skilled? No. You can be confident that over the last 1000 games, the 170 bowler has bowled much better, but the question is who is a better bowler now. What if the 150 bowler started in her first hundred games with a 100 average, and for each subsequent 100 games bowled, she increased her average by ten pins. That means that for the last 100 games, she has averaged 190 pins. In fact, Ms. 150 might now be the better bowler, but her average does not well reflect her recent games and increased skill.

Sandbagging aside, these examples are intended to highlight two problems with the way that averages are currently calculated: 1) For small number of games, an average can be highly inaccurate; 2) For large numbers of games, an average is very insensitive to recent performance. Both of these factors can make competition very unfair.

Let's start with the first. When a league begins, an average must be established. According to Rule 118b, "Each league shall adopt a rule to determine the number of games required to establish an average in that league." In our league, for veterans, an average is established after nine games. Until nine games have been bowled, your average from the prior season is used. For new bowlers, only three games are needed to establish. If by chance, a bowler begins the league with unusually good or bad bowling, their average will be highly inaccurate. The bowler is then put at an advantage if they bowled poorly or a disadvantage if they bowled well. This system provides strong incentive to sandbag at the start of a league.

Regarding the second problem, bowling leagues can be lengthy endeavors. We bowl three games a week for 32 weeks, or a total of 96 games. For many bowlers, skill changes. Some improve; others get worse. But because the average is calculated for the entire duration of the league, it becomes increasingly insensitive to these changes. Here's a simple example. Assume you enter a league with a prior 150 average. What happens if you bowl ten pins over average in your first game? Now, you have a 160 average. You average increased 10 pins, right (avg = 160/1 =160)? What if you have a 150 average after 99 games. If you bowl a 160, how much will your average change? It will increase by only 0.1 pins (avg = 15010/100 = 150.1).

The following graph shows the sensitivity of the average as a function of the number of games bowled. In a nutshell, it shows how many pins will be added to an average if a bowler bowls 10 pins over their average in a single game. When few games have been bowled, the average is extremely sensitive, but after a large number of games, it becomes essentially fixed. This insensitivity gave me and my team a major advantage at the end of last season for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

First, let me suggest the rule change. The rule should simply read "A bowling average is determined by dividing the total number of pins credited to a bowler for the previous 30 games of one USBC league by the number 30, inclusive of games bowled during the prior season. If a bowler has fewer than 30 games in the league, a bowling average is determined by dividing the total number of pins credited to a bowler in one USBC league by the number of games bowled in that league in a season."

Essentially, I suggest that the average is changed from a simple average to a moving average and should be based only the last 30 games. Once a bowler has 30 games in a league, both problems are solved. In statistics a sample size of 30 is considered sufficiently large to provide an accurate average. Furthermore, the sensitivity of the average does not change.

Here is a real world example of how this would affect a bowler. The bowler is myself. I started last season bowling terribly, but by the end of the 1st half, something changed, and I began to bowl much better. I started keeping records on the 1st of December, and I came into that night with a 136 average after 39 games. Over the next 18 weeks, my average steadily grew to a 147. Clearly, I was bowling better. To increase my average that much over such a short period of time, I was bowling considerably better than I had. The graph below shows how my average has changed. For comparison, I show how my moving average over the prior 30 games, the way I would prefer to see averages calculated.

Notice that for the end of last season, the moving average is anywhere from 8 to 10 pins higher than my official USBC average. Why? The USBC average was dragged down by my poor bowling at the start of the season. I was bowling 10 pins better than my average and handicap showed. This gave my team a significant advantage. It could be argued that I deserved it because I had improved... it is a reward for becoming a better bowler. Well, if the reverse had happened, if I had gone into a major slump, my USBC average would be too high. Simply put, the current method for average calculation puts too much weight on what happens early in the season, and as the season goes on, it becomes increasingly insensitive to what has happened recently.

At the start of this season, my average once again failed me. In this instance, I had my best night of bowling ever on Week 1 (a 596 series). By the time our averages were established in Week 4, my USBC average instantly jumped 25 pins to 172! I am not a 172 bowler. I was just really unlucky to have a seriously good day of bowling during the period when averages were being established. This put me at a major disadvantage, and my average has been decreasing ever since. Notice in contrast that the moving average shows smooth and continuous improvement. It is a much better reflection of my skill, and therefore, would be a much better basis for establishing a handicap.

I need to end this post because if it gets any longer, I'll have to bind it and sell it at Amazon. In short, I propose that Rule 118 is changed so that averages are calculated as a 30 game moving average. This would provide fairer competition because:

1) It would eliminate the problem of inaccurate averages at the start of leagues due to small sample sizes (but only for returning bowlers).

2) Once 30 games have been bowled, it is insensitive to the number of games bowled. It is therefore a better reflection of current bowling skill and provides a sounder basis for handicapping.

3) It would decrease the effectiveness of sandbagging, and reduce the incentive to do so.

Regarding the last point, I will explain in comments if anybody is interested. I figured you probably did not want to read any more because I hadn't made any jokes in a while.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Team Game, Personal Goals

300 times 2 that is. So, 600. No, not Spartans from this entertaining movie from Warner Bros. Pictures, but pins at the Laramie Lanes.
Aside from my goal every Monday of helping The Bowl Movements (c) go 4-0, I also shoot for some personal goals. I tend to think about my personal goals only when I am bowling well, as I do think about bowling, but focus on drinking, when I can not hit a thing. Of late I am bowling well though. A 566 and 539 in back-to-back series got me thinking of a new milestone- the 600 game. My games last night were good, sitting with a 201 and 193 after the first two games, meaning a 206 in the third would take me to the promise land. Alas, a 140 in the 3rd game meant that last night it was not to be.

So close, yet seemingly miles away from 600.

I started wondering if anybody else thinks a 600 series is something special..........and don't ya know it, there is a club for 600 series bowlers! A club where 15 dollars buys you a lifetime membership with all the perks and privileges only a select few can attain (see below)! Imagine the fame and notoriety one would have walking down the street in “any town” U.S.A. being a member of that club. I can only dream.

National 600 Club, Inc. , I will try my best to join your ranks, and when I do, I will wear my honor proud. Oh, nevermind, ladies only. Maybe the rest of my team can join. ZING!

"The National 600 Bowling Club, Inc. is a nonprofit and independent organization comprising USBC members who have bowled a 3-game series of 600 or more in USBC sanctioned league or tournament competition. The club was organized in 1948 and during the 2009-2010 season will be celebrating its sixty-second year. (Learn more about our rich history!)

We are referred to by USBC as an affiliate or allied organization. Membership is applied for through the Secretary-Treasurer by sending a local association verified application. An application form can be found on this site (see Membership for more information)

Dues are $15.00 for a life membership. As of January 2008, there are over 383,500 members in our organization. Included are members of the PWBA as well as members of the WIBC/USBC board and WIBC Hall of Fame inductees. While most are from the United States, there are members from Canada, Finland and Puerto Rico making us truly an international organization.
We strive for accomplishments both on and off the lanes and promote bowling fellowship and esprit de corps. We invite you to join us in our elite bowling organization."

Happy Solstice!

Yes my friends, the days are getting longer once again as the northern hemisphere begins to face the sun. Every year we orbit this segment of the galaxy, I can't help but feel a certain malaise. It must be the combination of long dark days and holiday guilt. On top of this, my spare throw seems lost and the pocket has abandoned me. Put simply, I bowled like shit. We lost. The only bright note was that JD continued on his torrid pace and seems to be solidly in 500 territory.

So, as should be obvious, I'm not much in the mood for scribing, nor crunching numbers, nor making graphs. Last night was probably the first league night I have ever experienced when I actually did not enjoy bowling. Poor bowling may have something to do with it, but it is more about anger and resentment, the source of which is as mysterious as the wobble of Earth's obliquity. It makes you wonder if the planet has an asymmetrical core. Interesting.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tips for Bad (Beginning) Bowlers: Stop using house balls

Disclaimer: The bowling advice that follows is very likely not good advice. Readers read at their own risk. The Bowl Movement Corporation assumes no liability for bowlers attempting to implement said advice.

Now, I am going to get all high and mighty and act like I actually know something about bowling. Why should a guy who is pleased when he rolls 140 provide actual bowling advice? Well, it's pretty simple really. There is a lot of bowling advice out there, but it usually geared for folks who are at a more advanced level. This is segment is intended for folks who are in their first few seasons of league and are interested in advancing quickly. I am in my 4th season of league bowling now. In my first season, I averaged 135. In my second, 128. Now, I am bowling in the mid-160's. I have gone through many phases from complete loser to sort of looking like I know what I am doing. At this point, I feel like I have a soap box to stand on, even if it is a short one. I struggled through three years on my own, so I figured I'd share a few things I've learned along the way.

So, if you decide you might want to bowl regularly, it's time to stop using house balls. There are many ways in which expensive custom bowling balls differ from house balls, but for the beginning bowler, most of that stuff does not matter. It does not matter if you have a ball with an asymmetrical core. It does not matter if it has some fancy cover material. So, don't go out and buy some really expensive ball. Just get your basic cheap ball. If you are interested in developing a hook, go one step beyond really cheap.

House balls are drilled with huge holes, so they can accommodate pretty much anybody who walks in from Skinny Fingers McGillicuddy to Stump Hands Johnson. Also, the heavier the ball, the greater the spacing on those fingers. The rule of thumb for choosing a ball weight is that the ball should be about 10% of your body weight. If you weigh 150, you need a 15 lbs ball. Well, if you grab a 15 lbs ball off the rack at the bowling alley, you may find that it fits you well, but more likely, you'll find that either the fingers are spaced too far apart, or that you are having trouble just holding onto it. When you bowl with a house ball, you do a ton of work with your hand just making sure that you don't lose it on the back swing. That hand and finger strain is just plain annoying and makes the game a lot more difficult than it should be. So, many people naturally gravitate toward balls that are too light.

When you buy your own ball, make sure you have it drilled at your local alley. If a ball is custom fit to your hand (a surprisingly sophisticated process), it will feel more comfortable than you can imagine. The best thing about it is that the weight just disappears. If you used a 12 lbs house ball, you will find that a 14 lbs custom ball will be no problem. You will not have to work hard to hold onto it. So, the best reason to get your own ball is that you can get one of the proper weight that is not difficult to throw.

Now for the downside. I was pretty excited when I got my first ball, and it fit really well. When they drilled it, they asked me if I was going to throw a hook. I told them that I wanted to develop one. At the time, I was bowling straight on. Well, if you want to throw a hook, it's tough to do with a house ball because most people sink their fingers deep into the finger holes, typically up the second knuckle. If you want to throw a hook, you are going to want to develop a finger tip grip, in which the fingers are only inserted to the first knuckle. The torque on a hook shot comes from the rotation of the fingers after the thumb has been removed.

This is how I had my first ball drilled. It was a huge change in grip, and my average dropped seven pins just trying to figure out how to throw the ball straight with that grip. It is a very different animal. I struggled this way for quite some time, but eventually it paid off. So, when you get that shiny new ball, don't expect it to pay immediate dividends. You might struggle with it initially, but trust me, once you have used your own ball for a month or two, you will never want to use a house ball again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Seat Race

Many years ago, eighteen and one half to be exact, I was a rower. I haven't sat in a shell for a long time. It was one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever done. It is an incessant battle of mind over body. It is a quintessential team effort. Everyone must give it their all, or you don't stand a chance in a regatta. Now, I bowl. Not many people have undergone this transition, and it may explain in part why I don't feel "at home" at the lanes.

In crew, the boats are set early in the season. On my team, we had eights and fours of various categories, such as varsity, junior, and lightweight. The number refers to how many oarsmen sat in the boat. There was also a coxswain, who by the way, does not yell, "stroke... stroke... stroke!" They steer the boat, tell you how you're doing (so you don't have to look sideways), and offer words of encouragement, sort of like a personal trainer. A good coxswain gets you through the pain and steers the boat in a straight line.

Even if you had a seat in a boat, it was not necessarily secure, like any position on any team. The coach would occasionally give another guy a shot, or you could challenge a seat. When this happened, it came down to a "seat race", literally you are rowing to keep your seat or to take someone else's. Here's how it works. Two boats race, and the result is recorded. Then, the two competitors switch positions, and the boats race again. The difference between the two races determines who wins.

It is about the relative performance of your team when it includes you vs. when it does not. The NBA tracks something it calls the +/- stat, which is intended to do the same thing. According to their website, it is "the point differential when players are both in and out of the game, to see how the team performs with various combinations." Ron Artest of the Lakers currently leads the NBA a +/- of 278. This means that the Lakers have been 278 points better than their opponents when he is on the floor compared to when he is not. I haven't checked the numbers, but this could result, for example, from the Lakers scoring 144 more points than their opponents when Artest plays, and 134 fewer points than their opponents when he does not. He really helps that team. [He's also very talented at assaulting fans.]

The seat race and the +/- stat are similar measures in that they are intended to see how an individual member of a team (or sometimes combinations of members) affect the performance of the team. Now, I have taken a long time to get to the real reason for writing about this stuff. You see, I am increasingly feeling like I am detrimental to my team. I missed this week's bowling because I was in San Francisco. How did the team do without me? 4-0. They were perfect and perfect against a team that in the past has consistently put us in our place. I'm proud of the Movements; I really am. But this pattern is not new. When I leave, we always do well.

Coincidence? I'm not so sure. I decided I'd check our team's +/- stat by bowler. Specifically, I calculated this as the difference in win percentage when a bowler was present or absent. I am unable to do this for Daniele because he has not missed a single night of bowling since the start of the BIA. Likewise, the Rookie has not missed a night this season, but he did sub for us last year. So, I considered all of those weeks when the Canadian rolled last year as the Rook's absent days. When, I did this, here's what I found:

In short, what this says is that when I am absent, we win approximately 44% more games than when I am present. Specifically, we are 11-1 without me and 60-65 with me. Thankfully, I'm not the only one in the red. K-terk is, too, but only barely. Both the Canadian and the Rookie also have positive effects. On the other extreme is Johnebob. We can't win without him. We are 70-64 when JPL is there, and 1-7 without him.

Now, it is tempting to chalk up my failure and John's success to small sample size, and that may be cause. But at least in my case, this difference is not easily explained by chance. The probability that this is a chance occurrence is around 3%. But here's the conundrum. I have led the team in average this year. Yet, in my absence, we do better. To be honest, it makes me feel a bit toxic.

So, there you have it. If I was in a seat race this season against K-terk, I would be the sub, and he would bowl in the two spot. I love tracking stats, but sometimes you can dig yourself into a deep hole. I might end up "statisticing" myself out of a job. The real question is whether my teammates bowl better in my absence or does the other team bowl worse? I can answer the first question if I crunch some numbers, but to be honest, I don't really want to know.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Drinking in the 500 Club

Since the whole Tiger incident(s) NIKE has been looking for a new image. This week Movement 2 headed to San Francisco for an important sponsorship meeting at NIKE’s west coast headquarters. His request was that to clinch the deal we needed to take K-terk and hand someone a serious beat down. Well we did it! We went 4-0 against the Mighty Huks or Hulks (Team 2). With this victory we are finally back to 500. For the night we beat the Huks by 176 handicap pins. We owed these guys a beat down we went 0-4 against these guys last time and had one of our worst games ever. JoeD and Johnebob lead us for the night with a 494 and a 482 series, respectively. Joe once again flirted with the Deuce finishing with a 199 in the second game. K-terk struggled the first game (probably tired from the drive) but put up solid games in the 2nd and 3rd averaging 132 for the night. The impressive thing about the night was our 3rd game. This is when we usually screw the pooch but Monday night we finished the 3rd game with a 955. I also caught fire in this game marking ever frame from the 4th including a “turkey” going into the 10th frame. I finished the game with a 184 my second highest game ever. I never thought I would break 180 for a patch or now a magnet but I have done it twice this season. Thank you Bowling Juice!

I don’t know if our victory will guarantee our NIKE sponsorship, but it is likely to lure in other big companies, perhaps Bloedorn Lumber or Bart’s Flea Market.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bowling Crime: Suspect believed to have shoe fetish

In late November, at Lufkin Lanes in Lufkin, Texas, a locker was burglarized. Taken was a bag containing two balls and a pair of bowling shoes. Although no one witnessed the theft, the suspect is described as young white male with a rotund beer belly and a Texas twang. The Lufkin P.D. crime profiler has studied many similar cases and has concluded that members of the public should be the lookout for either someone carrying a bag that seems unusually heavy for its size or a dude with a shoe fetish. In their press release, they state, "If you know a young white male with a beer belly who seems to wear a different pair of shoes everyday, or has a closest containing more than five pairs of shoes, please contact the Lufkin P.D. " No suspect has been named, but detectives are working around the clock to solve this heinous bowling crime.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

USBC: Bowling's credibility is back!

This morning I was awakened by a knock at the door. When I opened it, there stood three men in black... bowling shoes. They invited themselves in and poured themselves cups of coffee. They all carried bowling bags, which they kept close to their shins. The big one spoke, "Movement2, we don't like what you've been saying about the USBC."

"Like what?" I said.

The little one chimed in, "We thought that bowling bloggers were kids in pajamas sitting in the basement of their parents' homes."

"Well, that's not too far from the truth in my case, and isn't that a Palin quote?" I replied.

The medium guy said, "Stop critiquing our website and publications. You know that thing you wrote about bowling's credibility being lost? And yes, we often quote the Queen Pin."

"Yes, I remember, but it was YOU that said it first. I was just reiterating what YOU said".

The big one continued, "Well, we've changed it. It was just a thoughtless editorial oversight. Now, stop causing trouble, or we will cancel your subscription to US Bowler."

"Is that some kind of threat? I can live without it. All I learned from the last issue is that Manny Ramirez doesn't take bowling seriously (just like baseball), and that some bowlers proudly call themselves 'strokers'," I retorted.

"How about a lifetime USBC ban?" the little one snapped back.

"Go for it. I'll just go elsewhere. The voice of the people cannot be silenced!"

They grabbed their bowling bags and left as quickly as they had arrived. After they drove away in their unmarked black Pontiac Grand Prix, I checked the USBC website, and here is what I found:

That's not what it used to say:

The moral of the story is that even kids in their pajamas can affect change, especially if it is change that doesn't mean a whole lot.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bowling in Moving Pictures: The Oiler

A hard rocking, five minute video of a lane oiling robot. I bet you don't watch it to the end. You just keep waiting for something to happen but nothing ever does.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Movements vs. Movements

Today is the 1st anniversary of the 1st post to the BM Report. There have been many days when I have considered retiring from this endeavor. It seems like a lot of work for little payoff, but four people seem to enjoy it (on a good day). So, I'll keep slogging and blogging. Anyway, given the occasion, it seemed like a perfect time for some hindsight and reflexivity. So that's what we'll do.

There is no greater opponent than yourself. If you had to battle yourself in a fight to the death, who would be victorious? You would, of course, which is why when we fight ourselves, one of us must have a name preceded by the title "Bizarro". What if you could battle yourself from last year? Would the younger, slimmer version win or the older wiser one? This is today's question. If the Movements of last season rolled against the Movements of this season, who would be victorious?

To answer this question, I went into the closet and dusted off the old BM Simulator. This funky little tool simulates games of bowling. To do so, it needs two pieces of information: 1) The likelihood of any given 1st ball score (zero to strike); 2) The likelihood of picking up a spare depending upon how many pins are left standing. These probabilities are easy to estimate if you have enough data.

Here's how the Movements of olde tymes stack up against the 09-10 BM's. Not surprisingly, we are very similar teams. The graph above shows the probability of getting any given score on the first ball. Where it really matters, 9's and X's, this year's team comes out on top, but only slightly. Interestingly, this team is also slightly more likely to chuck the 1st ball into the gutter.

Things are again very similar for pickup %. This year's team has improved our single pin rate, but struggled a bit more with 2 and 3 pin leaves, no doubt due to the proliferation of splits. The biggest difference between this year and last concerns 8 pin leaves, or a 1st ball score of 2. Last year, we converted 75% of our chances. This year, we haven't done it a single time. This difference, however, is not real because it happens only very rarely. From the prior graph, it is clear that 8 pin leaves are the least common type. We only had four all of last year, and this year, we are 0 for 5.

So when these two teams are pitted against one another head to head, who would be victorious? To answer this question, I simulated 5,000 games for each team. I then put them side by side and counted how many games went to the new or the old team, and how many games ended in ties.

The good news is that this year's team would beat last year's in a battle to the death. It is not a big difference, but a difference it is. The 09-10 BM's would win about 52% of the games. Those sorry losers from last year would get 47%, and 1% of games would end in a tie. In the simulated games, last year's team averaged 144, and this year's 146, a result that is remarkably similar to real life. We currently average 147 as a team (including K-Terk).

So, this is a long and convoluted way of saying that over the 1st year of the BM Report, we have gotten better, not a lot better, but improvement is a good thing. If we meet those chumps from last year in a dark alley, and must fight to the death, I will be confident, 52% confident.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Four Games under .500: Bad Bowling or Bad Luck?

Last season, we finished the first half with a record of 29-35, or six games under .500. This season, we are on a similar pace, currently four games under at 24-28. We have had our fair share of bad bowling days, but we have also had days when we have bowled really well. Winning and losing in league bowling is funny thing. There are games you feel like you should have won but did not because some guy on the other team put up a perfect game (this has happened to us). There are other games you should have lost but won.

There are those things you can control, most notably how your team bowls. There are things you cannot control, such as your opponents' bowling. Accordingly success or failure in league bowling can be boiled down to two factors, performance and luck.

For example, this season, we have lost four games in which we recorded 900 handicapped pins or better. In our league, anything over 900 is a good game. Two of these losses occurred on the same night. Ouch that hurt. That is just plain bad luck. But on September 21, against Lazer Wash, we won a game in which we bowled 828. With that score, we had approximately a 30% chance of victory, but we won. That's good luck.

What has been eating away at my soul, though, are two seemingly incompatible facts. First, we are bowling better than we have ever bowled before. Second, we have a losing record. It just doesn't add up.

To seek solace in statistics (one of my favorite bad habits), I decided to look into this situation a bit more carefully using something called a Monte Carlo simulation. It's pretty simple, really. Based on our past record of wins and losses, I know with a certain degree of confidence the chance of winning a game given the team handicapped pin score. In the Memorial League of Bernaski, it is approximated by the formula:

win probability = [handicapped pin score] x .004 - 2.965

If you play around with this equation, you will find that a score of 867 represents a 50% chance of winning a game. Anything above that, you are more likely to win than lose. A game of exactly 900 has a 63.5% chance of victory. This formula is not a perfect representation of reality for reasons I won't get into, but it's pretty close.

So, here's what I did. I took our handicapped pin scores for the season. That's 52 games of bowling (technically 39, with 13 representing average HDCP pin score for the night). For each of these, I calculated a probability of victory. Then, I simulated these games 10,000 times to find what is the most likely number and total expected range of wins given our bowling performance over this season. When you do this, you get the following result:

In essence what this graph says is that the most likely outcome given our actual bowling performance is 27 wins, or a record of 27-25. So, the answer is bad luck. It could be worse, though. If we were really unlucky, we could have 20 or fewer wins, although this should happen only once in every 100 or so half seasons. On the other hand, if we were really lucky, we could have more than 35 wins.

While this does provide some solace, I must admit that I also find it somewhat troubling. In this simulation, I found that anywhere from 15 to 40 wins is possible given how we have bowled. That's a big range, and ALL of that range can be attributed to luck because I have held skill or performance constant. In that sense, it makes you wonder to what extent league standings are determined not by how well you bowl, but instead by the hands you are dealt.

Think of it this way. Let's say you show up night after night to bowling league, and your team does not bowl well. But for some reason, the team whom you face always bowls very poorly. You go on to win the league. Did you earn it?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bowl Movement Corp.,2nd Quarter Earnings Report

I am pleased to announce another solid quarter of performance and financial results for The Bowl Movement Corporation. In this uncertain economic context, our finances remain surprisingly robust. The company is in excellent condition having earned $216 in bowling winnings over the first thirteen weeks of the season. These revenues were offset by expenses of $624, not including outlays for bowling juice. While we have yet to turn a profit through the rolling of bowling balls, our shareholders can be confident that their capital investments will produce consistent losses. Our loss for the current quarter totals only $408, and is projected to be in the neighborhood of $1000 for the entire season. Again, auditors should note that these figures do not include bowling juice expense. Such expenditures are typically sheltered in offshore fictitious shadow entities to provide cover for non-inclusion in our SEC filings. An added benefit is that if made public, our wives might not let us bowl anymore.

Another positive note comes from spreadsheet sales. The 4th quarter saw the release of versions 2.0 and 2.1 of the BM Bowling Spreadsheet. We are happy to report that the spreadsheet has been downloaded more than 180 times. Voluntary donations for this time period total one act in the sum of $10. We are earning approximately $.04 per spreadsheet download, or $.05 per hour invested in its creation and maintenance.

In fairness to the Board, it should be noted that an additional $25 should be deducted from team earnings for the sponsor fee. Despite efforts to recruit sponsorship from Pelican International, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Hammer Corp., we have yet to find a sponsor. Thus, the sponsor fee is currently allocated to the Briefcase Fund for Bernaski Officership. We continue to actively seek sponsorship. Our current target sponsor is the Ballooney Bin. Our campaign is based on the slogan, "The Ballooney Bin presents the Bowl Movements!", a phrase so catchy that we expect sponsorship to occur in short order.

We are confident in our business model moving forward. Our bowling skills have improved, and we expect to have a strong 2nd half to the season. Profit margin for the 3rd quarter of the fiscal year is projected to be in the neighborhood of -60%, representing a 5% improvement year over year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Secrets to Bowling Victory

Its no secret this team was/is in a slump, and has not had sustained success since September. Wikipedia defines a sports slump as "a period of time when player or team is not performing well or up to expectations. It is pretty much a dry spell or drought, though it is often misused to define a player's decline that is natural during their career.

There are various theories behind the cause of a slump. Some attribute it simply to the reasons behind a gambler's bad luck. While a player's or team's average collective statistics over a career or season may be quite respectable, there may be peak times when performance is really spectacular, while there are also expected low points with an inevitable drought. Others believe there are psychological issues behind a slump. At times, a player, or all the key players on a team, may feel less motivated or may not be adept to handling clutch situations."

All viable hypotheses for our teams extended foray into the leauge basement.

However, for all those wondering how we managed to take down the league leaders, I think this video best tells the tale (link below). There is one key attribute to last nights win, without which we would not have been able to match the "Overrated" squad - Spare pick-ups. Picking up spares can help every bowler raise their average. If a player misses a spare, their average will drop like a stone canoe on a fishing excusion on Lake Suck, and picking up spares can decide whether a player is able to bowl a 200 game or a 120 game.

Last night, we marked up our fair share of frames. Splits and singles knew no mercy. All because we observed this tried and true technique.

Note the style and ease of which this bowler picks up a 7-10 split. Thank you TTF.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Senior Leadership

Tonight's theme: senior leadership. No, I'm not talking about you, Dell Sol, and stop googling yourself! Ok, I'm already going tangential, but I think I should create something called the Dell Sol factor. It is your average plus your age. Dell Sol would dominate our league by this measure. I'm sitting around 201. Dell, if I had to guess, is about a 260. Damn, that guy is bad ass and a really nice guy, too.

Anyway, tonight, the Rook had an off night, but the senior Movements put him on our collective back and carried the night. JD, JL, and I are in our 4th years of Bernaski, our senior years. We ought to have something to show for it. It is good to have a senior point guard, but if you can put some experienced talent around him, it's a winning combo. That was us tonight. First, let me set the table.

Tonight's opponent was Team 6, also known as Overrated. These guys are fairly new to the league. I think they joined last year. Last year, they were not good, like Bowl Movement bad. This year, they have learned how to bowl. They are about 60 pins better than we are. Prior to tonight, we had lost eight straight to the Boyer-Brackenrich Beatdown Brigade. Since the start of the BIA, we have a record of 3-9 against these guys. They have had our number. They currently sit in 1st place in the Memorial League of Bernaski.

But on this night, the eve of the 1st anniversary of the BM Report, they fell victim to experience, to calm under pressure, to senior leadership. In the 1st, we had an average game. They did not. They handed us a 60 pin lead. We were led by Daniele and Laughlin with 180 and 171, respectively.

Game 2 went down to the wire. We had a 23 pin lead with Brackenrich sitting on a strike in the 10th. He needed a mark and 3 for his team to take the game. He hung a 4 pin, and despite his nerves, picked it up. He struck on the bonus ball to give them a seven pin victory. He was clutch under pressure.

In Game 3, we started poorly, while the 6'ers went spare crazy, converting something like 11 of 12 chances. By the 4th frame, the game was basically even. It would be head to head, mano a mano, scratch bowling from there on out. I pulled off a miracle 5-bagger. By miracle, I mean that I did not hit the pocket once, and yet they all went down five times in a row. Daniele never opened a frame the entire game. After the 2nd frame, Laughlin only opened the 6th. We ended with 708 pins scratch and 979 with the cap. This is a very big game for us. We held on to take the third and easily the 4th.

First, I want to give Daniele some props. His game has been so drama-laden that it should be on daytime television, but tonight was his night. I thought I had a nice 3rd game with a 202, but he took it with a 210. Not only was this his highest game ever in league, but he also had his highest series, a 542, or an average of 180.7. The graph below shows Daniele's series over the last year. Despite being our top bowler for the first half last season, he went on a huge slide from January to March. Who knows what happened. He would probably say that it was because I started broadcasting his suckitude to the world every week. Anyway, with the new season and new ball, he has been reborn. Three weeks ago, he had his best series ever, a 539. Tonight, he pushed that three pins higher.

While Daniele carried us, he did not do all of the heavy lifting. The seniors, JD, JL, and I all had good nights. We averaged well over a 500 series, a 518 to be exact. This was easily our best night ever. On only one other occasion had we averaged over 500, and that was the first week of this season. On that night, the three of us recorded 1,517 pins. Tonight, we got 1,555. We all had good nights.

So, now we sit a solid four games sub .500 with three weeks left in the first half. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, we always seem to flirting with that number. Next, week I will be in the City by the Bay, and K-Terk will make the perilous trek from Cheyenne to don the red and black for the 4th time. Two seniors and two freshmen will take to the hardwood in battle against the Hucks, another team that has owned us. No doubt, they will also dominate next week, unless my absence once again plays to our advantage.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bowling Palindrome I

Nip a pin

A single pin leave in which the pin is touched but not felled.

BM Bowling Spreadsheet v.2.1

The BM Bowling spreadsheet was created as a tool for bowlers and bowling teams to track performance statistics. It is available free of charge, but voluntary donations are accepted. To donate, click on the Paypal link on the top right of this page. This is the third iteration of the spreadsheet. It can accommodate virtually any number of bowlers and games.

I try to accommodate requests made by commenters to this blog. The revisions made in v. 2.1 are largely due to such requests, and I am open to making more changes, so feel free to chime in. In this post, I only describe updates made in the new version. For basic information on the spreadsheet and its capabilities, see these two posts:

Bowling Scoring and Statistics Spreadsheet
Bowling Scoring and Statistics Spreadsheet, v. 2.0

Split Marking and Statistics- The spreadsheet can now mark and count splits for each bowler and for the team as a whole. Split statistics are kept by series. In the screen shot below, splits are marked by frames highlighted in green.

Individual and Team Handicapped Game Scores- In prior versions, handicapped scores were only calculated for series. I have now added handicapped scores to individual games. In the screen shot below, the blue arrows indicate where handicapped game scores are now shown. Beneath each game, the spreadsheet also calculates the total team scratch and handicapped scores for that game.

To get version 2.1, just right click on the link that follows, and choose "Save Link as". Then, download the spreadsheet to your computer. Download link: BM Bowling spreadsheet v.2.1

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Johnebob and greasy balls, a good match

After a long work week, Johnebob had a hankerin' for some bowling. He and I made our way down to the Lanes of Laramie at 4:00 PM on Friday afternoon for a few games. It has been cold here at 7,200 ft above the level of the sea. Our low temperature yesterday was a balmy -15 degrees. Ice is everywhere. The snow, now two or three weeks old, will not melt. It is not good to be outside, but the weather is ideal for rolling.

We got off to a rough start. The lack of practice frames is non-league bowling is always obvious. John started with two opens. I started with four. Then something happened. Both of us struck frames 5 through 9. Five in a row; ten in a row for the two of us! Despite starting with four opens, I finished that game at 190. Johnebob landed a nice 188.

In Game 2, John went off with a 225. In Game 3, a 194. When all was said and done, John recorded the first 600 series ever for a BM, a 606 to be exact. He did this with sixteen strikes and he even left six frames open. He was all over the pocket. I was happy with my 521, but 606? Holy rolling bowling balls, Batman! Unfortunately, this was not in USBC sanctioned league play, otherwise he would be receiving a fridge magnet. Here's his 600 series:

So, last year, John was our anchor, our best bowler. This year, he has consistently averaged in the 150's, pretty much where he left off. Interestingly, however, I saw him nearly get 600 pins one other time this year, also not during league. On both days, the lanes were oily.

At the end of last season, he picked up a Brunswick Twisted Fury, a ball with a ton of action, and I am starting to think that greasy lanes suit him best. Lane conditions during our league play have been very dry. We are the 2nd league to bowl on Monday's, and by the time we roll, the right sides of the lanes have big curving grooves dug into the oil. For comparison, yesterday, I was throwing my first ball around 12 mph to find the pocket. During league, I take it up to 14-15 mph. It requires a very precise shot or a lot of speed to keep a ball with a lot of break on the right side when you are bowling on what seems like sand paper. That's my best guess for what's going on, or maybe he suffers from the same malady as E.B.

Whatever it was that sent John to the moon yesterday, I hope it's still there on Monday, greasy or dry. We need some wins.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Man Spare

Everything in bowling has a name. Everything. When I started bowling again, I had no idea how lexically advanced this game is. There are terms I regularly use, of which I have no clue of their etymology, like the word "brooklyn". There are other terms, like "Greek Church", which I have heard used, but I have no idea what they mean. I just looked that one up. In this strange world of bowling terminology, I would like to think the Movements have made a solitary contribution, but I know that this particular occurrence must have already have a name. We call it the "man spare".

That name is not intended to be sexist by any means. Lady bowlers out there are always welcome to pick up a man spare. It feels great to do so, and it will not impact your femininity or alternative gender identity. What is the man spare? I occasionally refer to it by another name, the "Dash-Slash". It simply means chucking your first ball in the gutter and picking up all ten on the 2nd. Despite a valiant attempt to Google the actual name of this occurrence (lasting all of about 30 seconds), I could not find one. So, it is now officially the "man spare".

Lately, it seems like I have had a lot of opportunities to pick up man spares. I wonder if it is a consequence of throwing a hook and losing the ball to the right. It seems like I have even seen this happen to professional bowlers from time to time. That said, our rookie, a straight thrower, seems to have plenty of man spare leaves. In fact, he gets to try convert the much coveted man spare on average once every 5.5 games. This is slightly less than JD and JL who do it about once every 4.9 games. For me, it's once every 8.5 games.

So, there you stand red faced having just thrown your first ball in the gutter. How do you respond? Do you try to throw your normal strike ball? It's not an easy thing to do because some 45 seconds prior, you tried to do exactly that, and the outcome was a channel ball. As a consequence, I often overcompensate and end up far to the left of the pocket. It's a tricky thing from which to recover, a classic bowling mind f@&k.

I thought I would check our team's man spare conversion rates. One would think that they should be pretty similar to our strike percentages. After all, it's an identical situation, except it isn't. Physically, it is identical. Mentally, it's completely different.

When I did this, I got mixed results. Surprisingly, the Rookie comes out on top. The Rook only strikes around 18% of his frames, but he has converted more than 40% of his man spare leaves! Now, this is probably an aberration of the numbers, meaning that it is not meaningful statistically. In science, you would say that this is not a significant difference because he hasn't had many opportunities to try to pick up man spares, only seven to be exact. Of those, he has converted three. In fact, none of these differences are significant. Our samples are just too small.

Johnebob shows a similar trend. He has struck 29% of his frames but converted nearly 37% of his man spares, of which he has had 19 opportunities. JD and I show the opposite trend. JD has two conversions in 20 tries, and I am 3 for 11. For the team as a whole, both conversion rates are nearly identical, around 27%.

So, in short, despite the mental aspects of the man spare, we seem to approach them as we would a strike. To be honest, I found this a bit surprising. Perhaps with larger samples, real differences will emerge, but it will take a long time to get that sample because these things don't come around very frequently. Maybe that's why they don't have a name. They are rare and only a regular occurrence for crappy bowlers. Perhaps I should start building the bad bowler glossary.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guess who's coming to dinner

We were waiting with bated breath for the Bowling Proprietors Association of America to name their keynote speaker for their 2010 convention, but when the announcement was made, we were left speechless. Palin? Are you serious? Sarah Palin? Interesting choice. Let's see why it was made. According to the bad pun filled press release by the BPAA:

"Sarah Palin is a great friend to the bowling industry and we're so proud and honored to welcome her as our keynote speaker at International Bowl Expo 2010. Regardless of your political affiliation, Ms. Palin is a force in American politics and culture. Her presence underscores the impact and importance of bowling, one of our country's leading national pastimes and a growing $10 billion industry."

Hmmm. Interesting. And why exactly is she "a great friend to the bowling industry?" And why did she agree to this gig? My guess is that you are shelling out somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 grand, and for what? No doubt, Sarah will be filled with brilliant insights about enhancing the profitability of bowling alleys.

In truth, I'm impressed that you have the funds to hire her, but come on, this is just a stupid publicity stunt. I can't wait to see her speech, though. Back in the fall of 08, Sarah was definitely a popular gal at Laramie Lanes. From the comments I heard uttered, she appeals more to the loins of bowlers than to their minds. Maybe that impacted your decision, too.

So, have fun at that convention in Vegas next June. I hope you get what you paid for. You betcha, I do.

BM Radio

The BM Report strikes again! First, we made the Bowlers Journal International. Now, we have been featured on the Blogs with Balls radio show. These guys had some nice things to say about us. Listen here:

But I don't recall making any Lebowski references. Maybe I used a pic or two. No doubt, we will next be featured in a cover story in Cosmo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Greater Fat

For what it's worth, every time I start mouthing off about how we are going to kick some team's ass, the reverse happens. I think it's time to end that behavior. Another 1-3 night for the Movements against the team known as Lesser Fat. What that team name means, I have no idea. It reminds me of a former Bernaski team, now retired, the Pine Rollin' Biscuits. What was that about? I must be getting old.

The night started well with a 924 game handicapped. That gave us a 60+ pin lead, but the Fatties came on strong in the next two to take the 4th game. Of the Fatties, Nathan probably had the best night I have ever seen for a straight on bowler, landing a 543 series and a 199 in the last. They were definitely the greater fat on Monday night.

I usually don't focus on my performance, but on Monday, I was definitely the outlier. I took the high series for the team with a 489, but struggled mightily with the 2nd ball. I came into the night having picked up nearly 53% of my spares on the season. That's 110 conversions in 209 tries. I felt like my pickup rate was finally approaching my free throw percentage. Well, on Monday night, I went 3 for 18, or 16.7%. That dismal performance includes leaving 4 of 5 single pin chances untouched.

Yet, I averaged 163 and nearly got a 500 series. Clearly the 1st ball was working. In all, I got 14 X's including a turkey in the 1st and four bagger to finish the night. Two weeks ago, I was whining about how I couldn't find the pocket. Now, it seems that is all I can find. I solved the pocket problem by throwing heat, adding about 3 mph to the throw. That took a lot of break out of the ball. I had three chances for ten pins, and I missed them all to the left, even if I chucked it at 16. I couldn't tell if my spare struggles were due to an off night, extremely dry lanes, or that I am finally putting a ton of spin on the ball. I need to figure that out soon or bring back the Green Lady as a spare ball.

This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance, also known in the New England Journal of Medicine as "One Ball Syndrome", got me thinking about two stats. First, has anyone ever got a 500 series with fewer than five spares? In theory, it shouldn't be very difficult if you couple that with a lot of strikes. Second, Johnebob asked what is the highest score on our team for a game with no spares? In the 1st game, I put up a 170 with no spares.

Well, the answer to the first question is yes, and it happened in recent memory. In fact, Johnebob did it LAST WEEK! Last week, Johnny converted only 4 of 15 spare tries, but coupled that 15 strikes to get him to the five hundy.

As for the 2nd question, my 170 was the highest zero spare game on record. Keep in mind that it is possible to go as high as 300 with zero spares. On record, we only have 12 games without a single spare conversion. That's 12 out of 396 games, or roughly 3%. The next highest zero spare game was also bowled by me it was a 162. Daniele's best zero spare game was a 161. JPL's, a 156, and Gingy's, a 129.

In other news from Lake Wobegon, everybody got a chunk of the leaderboard, although Johnny and I shared the majority chunk. John picked up a bunch of categories including marks, pickup%, single pin spares, and accuracy. He split total spare count with JD with 11, and JD also claimed the high score for Game 2 with a 160. Newt Gingerich led the team on single pin conversion rate, getting four of six, or 66.7%. We actually bowled pretty well, but they bowled a lot better. Tune in next week when those punks known as Overrated mop the floor with us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The only way to put last night behind us... to try to think of something else, anything......

How to Thatch a Roof :
"Thatching a roof is actually not as complex as it sounds and you can do it yourself without consulting a roofing expert. After all, there was often nobody in that profession to help villagers in rural England when they made their own roofs a few centuries ago. As long as you are prepared and ready to devote a lot of time and effort to the process, there is no reason you cannot do it yourself. In England, the traditional thatch material used for most thatch roofs is straw, either combed wheat straw or longstraw. In the lowlands of England, water reed, also known as Norfolk reed, is used. These are available from suppliers to be shipped almost anywhere. Newer synthetic thatch materials, also on the market, are claimed to last longer than natural products, but those sensitive to chemicals may wish to avoid these."
For more on this topic visit -


Did we lose last night? I can't remember.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Payback time

Tonight marks the eight week anniversary of our epic slide. It began with a pathetic attempt at post-bowling against Lesser Fat. We missed league night to suffer through two very cold and demoralizing playoff Rockies games. We went 0-4 against the Fatties. This was followed by two more sweeps, one by Overrated and then the Mighty Hucks. For the next three weeks, we repeat against these teams. We need to return the favor. Tonight, we face the Lesser Fat-Tailed Gerboas. It's payback time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attn: Professional Bowlers Association

I have been watching the PBA on ESPN lately. I must admit that it has become a lot more interesting now that I relate much better to the trials and tribulations of professional bowlers. This ability to relate has come with experience, a better understanding of pin action, lane conditions, technology, etc. In light of bowling's incessant search for legitimacy in the world of sport, clearly the ability to personally relate to something is key to success. Most people simply can't relate at this level because these are subtleties. Everybody can relate to a linebacker plowing over a receiver or a baseball flying over the center field wall, even though they have never done these things themselves. It's much more difficult to understand why a ball one inch from the pocket doesn't result in a strike if you are not a regular bowler.

A couple of nights ago, I was reading my US Bowler mag and read a quote by Norm Duke. The story was about his Best Bowler ESPY, and he said, "The ESPY's is a chance for bowling to reside alongside all the other sports. Whether you believe baseball, basketball, and football are the top tier sports, for a week we're all the same." This sentiment seems to be expressed over and over again by bowlers and bowling organizations. You are looking for an audience. You are looking for acceptance in the world of sport. You are looking to grow the sport.

Well, this morning, I had an interesting idea. I was watching Shannon Pluhowsky bowl. Damn, can she roll a sphere. I realized that bowling has an opportunity that is not available to most other sports. Women can compete with men. There may not perfect parity, and certainly men throw a lot harder than women, but if you took the best 20 women in the world and had them compete with the top 20 men, I would guess that a woman would come out on top from time to time. I have no idea how often this would happen. I couldn't even find women's stats on the PBA website.

That said, I think that having separate tours for women and men is a good thing. The best reason is that it doubles the number of professional bowlers, but here's what I would suggest. You should have one event annually where gender is irrelevant. You want people to care? People still may not be able to relate to the subtleties of bowling, but they could easily relate to this. How many women in the world have been subject to sexism? How many women feel like they are trying to succeed in a world or career dominated by men? These issues are exacerbated in sport where basic biological and physical characteristics of the sexes give men a distinct advantage. But in bowling as in life, women can compete with men, and they can compete well.

I am not talking about a token appearance of Michelle Wie in a golf tournament, which by the way always draws a lot of interest. I am not talking about the circus like atmosphere of Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs. I am talking straight up head to head competition between athletes on a level playing field. Why not? There is no better sport in which this could be done. And why shouldn't it be done?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bowling Alley Mural Reviews: Ju Hoansi

Inspired by the bowling pictographs on the sandstone outcrops of the Okavango Delta, the bowling alley mural Ju Hoansi by Anonymous combines both soft cartoonish classic forms with the ancient rock art genre of the Later Stone Age and Mesolithic periods. Purple and green bowling balls set on a mossy tropical forest green assault an obliquely oriented pin top. Lane arrows, not to be mistaken for Star Trek insignia, are randomly oriented providing a confusing setting in which to bowl. They tempt the kegler to release the ball to the left, right, or even upward. In panel centers bowl tropically proportioned dynamic stick men in full back swing. While not as tasteful nor inspiring as space and dolphin themed bowling artwork, the muralist who produced this masking unit cannot be characterized as one who is afraid to take risks. For this trait, he must be commended, though I am left with much doubt that this piece will ever be featured in a coffee table volume of symbolic bowling expression.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Split Personality Disorder

Lately, I have been plagued by splits, and so have two of my compadres (JD and JL). This week our team put up 18 of those pesky buggers. We have had more than 10 for seven of the last eight weeks and have maxed out at 20. Splits are huge nuisance, especially pocket splits. They are keeping our pickup percentage down. For instance, this week, I picked up 9 of 17 spares or 52.9%. Of the eight that I did not collect, 6 were splits. So, of the "normal" leaves, I had, I actually got nearly 82%. If I could largely eliminate splits, then, I could probably add at least 10 pins to my average. This goes for most bowlers.

Well, in this post, I would like to make the argument that splits are a sign of improvement in bowling; I'd actually like to turn this rise in splits into a good thing. It's rare in sports that a gain in skill comes with an unfortunate side effect, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly what's going on here.

I'd like to start with a simple conceptualization of skill in shooting a basketball. The same idea could be applied to darts or any activity where something is propelled toward a target. In basketball, the target is the center of the rim. If a shooter shoots 1,000 free throws, they will make some and they will miss some, but if we were to look at the average location at which the ball would have passed through the plane of the rim, it will usually be the center of the rim. Parenthetically, did you know that the diameter of the rim is twice the diameter of the ball?

For a really poor shooter, Shaq for instance, that scatter of dots representing each shot will be wide. Some will be air balls. Some will be swishes. Some will clank off the rim to the right or left. Some will brick off the back of the rim or backboard. For a really good shooter, like Steve Nash, that scatter of points will be much tighter. Most will be near the center of the rim, and the misses will be near misses. The scatter of points made by both shooters should be centered on the center of the rim. For a good shooter, though, the dispersion, or the width of that scatter, will be much tighter.

Now let's apply the same concept to bowling. On the first ball, we all aim for the pocket, the 1-3 if you are a righty. Some of us are better at consistently finding it than others. For a really low skill bowler, if we could average all of the locations of contact of the pins (say the board of entry), it would be the pocket. In fact, this would be the most likely shot, but a large number of shots would miss, and many would miss badly, with some even finding the gutters. Below is a graphical representation of the system as I envision it. (Click on it to make it larger).
The beige curves above the pins represent the frequency distribution of 1st shot locations for low, intermediate, and high skill players. If I had actual data for this, I would expect the distribution to be normal, bell-shaped, or Gaussian, named after Karl Friedrich Gauss (the old guy in the pic up there). Incidentally, if you are interested in tracking board (or location) statistics, check out Bowl SK, a bowling stats package maintained by our friends at the 10th Board. In brief, the height of the curve represents how commonly a shot reaches the pins at a particular location. The most common location is the pocket for bowlers of any skill, but as we improve, those shots on the edges of the pins become increasingly rare until they largely disappear. Professional bowlers are almost always very close to the pocket.

Here is the interesting part. As your skill increases from low to intermediate, you should find the pocket and its surroundings more frequently. Because most splits derive from striking the 1 pin straight on (very close to the pocket) , splits should actually increase in frequency as you improve. If you can get beyond this stage to the high skill level, they should drop off again.

I don't have board statistics for our team to demonstrate this phenomenon. As quantitatively anal as I am, I just can't bring myself to record this information while bowling, but I do have one way of looking at the problem: 1st ball average. If you have a high 1st ball average, it means that you are regularly near the pocket on your 1st toss. If it is low, you are all over the place. It should be a good proxy for skill. So, we can ask whether the number of splits increases as first ball average increases?

Above is a graph of 1st ball average vs. the number of splits for 93 individual series of bowling for bowlers of low to intermediate skill.Notice that above a 1st ball average of 7.5, the average number of splits per series increases by one for every 0.5 pins gained in 1st ball average.

What does this mean? It means that if you are getting more splits and you are improving from low to intermediate skill, this is exactly what should be happening, as annoying as it may be. It is a sign of improvement. So, try not to think of it as a bad thing, as I have been. It is my contention, although I do not have the data to back it up, that as you improve even further, the number of splits you get will decline again. Here's one little bit of evidence to support that idea. Two weeks ago, JD put up a first ball average of 9.03. It was the first time any of us had broken the 9.0 mark. How many splits did he have that night? Only one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Hard Fought Battle

It was a battle of the Laramie's bowling elite on Monday night at the Lanes of Laramie. Or perhaps more accurately, it was Laramie's bowling elite vs. Laramie's bowling losers, the Movements. We gave it our all, but the Lazers took three of four. We had a solid night, putting up nearly 1,900 pins. We had two 900 games but only managed to win one of them. With every game, one could hear the swords of gorgons clashing on the battlefield, whatever that means.

I'll just hit the highlights. Game 2 was a spectacle to behold. Despite a team handicapped 902, we lost. The real battle was among the Lazers. It was the Briefcase vs. the Kid Wonder in a death match to 300. The Kid started with seven straight, but The Briefcase later countered with his own seven-bagger. They both ended with matching 268's, so nobody had to die this night. Even though The Bruin was having a hard time finding the pocket and that they had an absent bowler (Baker, Jr, who still bowls like 228 when he isn't even there), we could not compete with the raw talent of the Lazers.

In Game 3, we were already down two games and about a Roman C of pins, but we fought to the end to win the game. I will demonstrate the fortitude of the BM's with a new tool on the BM Report, the Victory Probability Tracker®. The VPT was inspired by similar graphics used to describe a team's chances of winning a baseball game as the game progresses. Here's an example. Unlike the much more sophisticated baseball model, our model does not take into account what the other team is doing because we lack those data. It is instead based on team frame by frame scores and past outcomes. Here's the VPT for Game 3 last night:

We started off strongly early on. Johnebob went X, X, 6/, X for his first four. I struck the first followed by a split. The Rook went strike-spare. JD went 9, man spare in the first two. After the scoring for Frame 1 was complete, we already had a 63% chance of victory, but over the next five frames, we slipped back to 50-50. The game was looking lost, but for the last four, we bowled toe to toe with the Lazers. Daniele, who had struggled to get X's all night landed a four-bagger. Johnebob put a double on top of that. I got an X and a couple of slashes, and the Rook added one of each. By the end of the game, we had pushed our chance of victory to near 70%, which was good enough to get one on the night.

Since I love the numbers, I'd like to point out one more interesting happening. Johnebob absolutely dominated the first frame. In Game 1, he started with a turkish delight. In Games 2 and 3, he started with two-baggers. In all, he averaged a hefty 28.0 pins in the first frame. One should keep in mind that the maximum that can be attained for any frame is 30, so an average of 28 is very beefy. In fact, nobody has ever come close. The graph below shows the frequency distribution of average frame scores for the Movements for all series on record.

This is a lot of data. In fact, it includes 1,152 average frame scores. That's 10 frames per bowler for four bowlers for 38 nights of bowling. In short Johnebob's 28 pin average for the 1st frame was sick. It is a major outlier. Nobody has gotten even close. The next closest was a 25.3 pin average for the 2nd frame from February 2, 2009. Who did that? Johnebob of course, the master of choosing a frame to dominate for the night. Lest he get a big head, I will note that for Frame 10 last night, he averaged 8.3. That's bowling for you.