Sunday, January 25, 2009

Do you like bowling and quantitative analysis? I didn't think so.

Bowling is a sport often enjoyed by folks with simple pleasures, like bowling. It is my impression, though unfortunately I have not quantified it, that the literacy rate at bowling alleys is similar to that of pre-Dynastic Egypt. My point is not to be a bowling elitist, but only to note that my obsession with the analysis of bowling scores is not common. This probably explains a few things about me. It explains why my calculator and pens often fall out of my pocket protector when I’m going after the 7 pin, thus tripping the foot fault indicator. It explains why when I step up to bowl, I commonly hear electronic “beep-beep-boop-boop” sounds and things like “the probability of picking up this split is 21.94%” spoken in a robot voice by my teammates as they guzzle bowling juice. It may also explain why I can’t seem to roll a 200 game in league, despite having some 200 chances to do so. But hey, I can tell you exactly the likelihood that I will do just that next week (1.96%), and I could do the same for you.

For it is my impression that while I am often the butt of nerd jokes, people like having a nerd to tell them how their bowling game is coming along. Parenthetically, I am an unapologetic nerd. There are only a few bowling statistics that most people can use to describe their game: average, handicap, series, etc. These are nice general summaries of one’s proficiency at the game, but I think knowing a bit more can be helpful. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you throw a very good strike ball, but that for some reason, you struggle with spares? Aside from this, there is another point to my madness.

Quantitative analysis has traditionally been applied to certain niches, primarily the scientific realm. Descriptive statistics in sports, especially baseball, has a long tradition as well. Major league baseball teams now hire statisticians to help them evaluate prospects and the likelihood of reaching the Series. Ken Pomeroy has made a second career for himself by analyzing the statistics of college basketball. Nate Silver rose to stardom from nowhere with his detailed analyses of political polls and by almost perfectly predicting the outcome of the 2008 elections. Quantitative analysis is experiencing something of a renaissance. It is Revenge of the Nerds playing out in real life, but unfortunately real life lacks Bugger, Ogre, Gilbert, Lamar, and Louis.

My dorky obsession with the performance of the Bowl Movements and the general properties of bowling scores will not change the world. It will not result in fame. It will not land me a career with the PBA nor ESPN 8, but that is not the point. I like crunching numbers, and I enjoy the irony of this endeavor. Is it not the least bit ironic to apply mildly sophisticated analytical methods to the performance of a crappy bowling team in Laramie, Wyoming? This amuses me. If nothing else, this endeavor will shed a little light where there was none before. Prior to keeping track of my performance, I had no idea how consistent my performances have been. Who knew that I regularly throw between 8 and 13 strikes over a three game set, or that I only pick up 39.3% of my spare opportunities? Knowing this hasn’t really changed my game, but I feel like I understand my skills or lack thereof a little better.

So, I will continue to roll right through the beep-beep-boop-boop’s and continue to play with my data. They say that playing with your data can cause hairy palms and blindness, but it has brought a small chunk of the world into clearer focus. So bring on your nerd jokes.


  1. Nice.... but one correction. I think I have seen Bugger and Ogre at the Lanes.

  2. Don't worry- keep reaching for that rainbow. One day, your team will win the talent competition at homecoming with a rousing techno song and some strategically applied science in a skills competition. Then you'll get the homecoming queen and the respect of everyone at Adams, the University of Wyoming.

  3. Just be wary of Darth Vader clad men offering bowling NOT enter the fun house with them.

  4. Sorry for not responding sooner. I've been busy perfecting the aerodynamics of my floppy javelin.


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