Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pinnius, You Suck

Dear Pinnius,

God of Bowling, you suck. You cursed my Arizona Wildcats by putting on their gear. You were probably wearing Pitt Panthers panties, too, weren’t you? The Movements pulled out another victory last week without you. Despite your best efforts, we prevailed. Now, you are resorting to some nasty tactics. Why did you have to schedule a meeting for Johnebob in Buffalo or Sheridan for 9:00 AM on Tuesday morning? He won’t be bowling with us this week. He is our anchorman, our kingpin. He is the only Movement who can get a strike lately. If I know you, you’ll probably drop by the meeting from bowling heaven just before it starts to snarf up all the doughnuts, you free-loading tub of lard. Let me tell you something, you omnimpotent piece of crap, we will win this one for Johnny, not you. Gingasaurus Rex is going to sub his ass off. José will rediscover his old form. El Jefe will bowl like he gets a trip to Tim Horton’s if we win. I will rediscover double-digit strikes without divine intervention. The only thing you are good at is being the object of my immature aggression. How many times have you gotten drunk in the bowling alley in heaven? I imagine you stumbling over the foul line and falling on your face. If you weren’t so partial to the sauce, you might actually be able to do your job and help us win games, loser.


The Rules of Bowling: Deliberate Fouling

According to the USBC's rule book, a foul is committed in bowling when "a part of the player’s body encroaches on or goes beyond the foul line and touches any part of the lane, equipment or building during or after a delivery. A ball is in play after a delivery until the same or another player is on the approach in position to make a succeeding delivery." When I intially read this rule, I thought at first that a player's hand is not allowed to cross the foul line, but this is not true. In fact, a player can cross the foul line as long they do not touch anything beyond it. This is why people who can levitate are so good at bowling.

What is more interesting, however, is Rule 5B, shown above. It says that if a player intentionally fouls, with the intent of benefiting from that foul, then a score of zero is given for that frame. I find this rule strange for a few reasons.

First, how could one benefit from a foul? I can think of one way- sandbagging. Sandbagging refers to intentionally keeping your average low and therefore your handicap high to give you an advantage in the future. In some situations, it might be possible to do this at low cost. For example, let's say your team has an insurmountable lead going into the 10th frame. In this case, you can intentionally foul at no cost. You win the game, and you keep your average low and handicap high.

Is this the intent of Rule 5b? To prevent sandbagging? Perhaps, but it is flawed. It is not a rule violation to intentionally throw a ball into the gutter. Yet, you achieve the same outcome that you would be deliberately fouling. (This may be covered under Rule 17a, Part 2 dealing with Unfair Tactics.)

Second, the consequence of the rule is pretty much the same as if it were not in effect. If you unintentionally foul on your first ball, you do get a 2nd ball. If you deliberately foul you do not. But here's the weird part. If you deliberately fouled to keep your average low, then you are actually benefited by this rule because you receive a score of zero for the frame. For this rule to really be meaningful, it should have much more severe punishments, such as forfeiture of game or suspension. Otherwise, it makes no sense.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Frame Effects

When you step up to first frame in the first game, you have the benefit of having just thrown two to four frames of practice bowling. You also want to get off to a good start. The pressure you feel, if you feel it, is like standing on the first tee wanting to blast one down the fairway. In a tight game in the 10th, you want to turkey out. For the central eight frames, the mentality is different. It is one of maintenance or recovery. You want to keep the streak alive, put up a big number on that mark, or redeem that frame you just left open. Different frames have different feels. Early in the game, there is a sense of hopefulness. Late in the game, there is the sense of finishing strongly. So, does the performance of bowlers vary by frame? That is subject of this post.

In the first ever BM Report, I looked at an interesting pattern in frame scores. On December 2, 2008, we peaked in the 2nd frame, and then slowly dipped to the 5th. A 2nd peak was present in the 6th frame and slowly fell through the 10th. Is this the way our team bowls? In our current database, we have frames score for 204 games for six bowlers, a total of 2,040 frames. Shown below is the average score by frame for our team. In brief, there are no frame effects. Our mean frame scores are remarkably consistent ranging between 13.95 per bowler in the 1st to 14.90 in the 2nd. While there are differences, they are not statistically significant. We bowl, as a team, an average of 14.59 pins per frame, or an average score of 146 per bowler per game. As a team, we bowl equivalently whether it is the 1st frame, the 10th, or anything in between.

While this is true for the team, is it also true for individual bowlers? The graph below shows the average frame score for the four Movements. While differences between bowlers are clearly evident, within any given bowler, they are less so. Johnebob has the highest average frame score for any bowler with a 17.8 for the 10th. In fact, if you look at Johnny’s scores it looks like he really catches fire in frames 8 through 10, but in fact, there are no significant differences between frames for John, and this is true for all of us.In short, frame seems to have no effect on bowling scores for our team.

Whether this is true for all bowlers, I don’t know. For us, it is steady as she goes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


They say that momentum is huge. Two weeks in a row, we have gone 3-1. We almost went 4-0 against the Caesars this week. Four weeks remain in this season, and we need every win we can get. We have moved back into 2nd place, but we are a long way from first. The Movements are gaining speed like a stampeding herd of bison. Nothing can stop us, not even the team with at least four names: Team 2, Jeffrey's Bistro, The Mighty Hucks, and The Mighty Hulks. We get them next week. Last time we met up, we got slammed. Pay back time.

We bowled well this week. Still, it wasn't a dominating performance, but it was good enough to win. It helped that the Pizza Boys only had three bowlers, but what helped more was that the Iowan bowls for us. He put up his third 200 game in three weeks, and he has been carrying us. In all, we put up 1,743 pins, our 9th best on record. We have definitely bowled better, but on Monday night it was enough for three wins. Surpisingly we set one new team record, single pin spares. We got 20. Johnebob picked up all six of his chances. I got 6 of 9. El Jefe led the team with 7 (out of 13). Joe added one. We also tied our record for spares with a total of 45. There were a lot of spare opportunities as our strike numbers have fallen off a cliff lately. In fact, Johnebob got more strikes (n=15) than the rest of us combined (n=13). We need to rediscover ball No.1.

The stat of the week concerns John and Joe. John has been on fire lately, and I don't mean in a bowling way. Well, that way, too, I guess. We all have our ups and downs, but since early February, Johnebob's game just keeps climbing. Aside from hitting 200 three weeks in a row, his series totals have been climbing like a Nepali sherpa. With two 500 series back to back, he has put up 1,086 pins in the last two weeks. He has established himself as the No. 1 Bowl Movement in the world. It has been a joy to watch.

Daniele, by contrast, has had a strange season. He dominated the first half putting up a stellar 150 average, but since then has fallen off the face of the earth, like I did last season. It started with a shoulder injury which led to a new throw, which has been impossible to figure out. Jose, we need you back buddy, but remember this is a team sport. When one bowler struggles, the rest of us will carry you. Remember that picture of the Bowl Movements's walk on the beach? There were four sets of foot prints, and then when you were struggling, there was only one. You thought that we had abandoned you in your time of need. No. Johnebob was carrying Geoff, who was carrying me, who was carrying you. If you look closely at that picture, you can see that big jumble of footprints where four dudes were climbing on top of each other. Hmm. Something about that doesn't sound right.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nice Try, Pinnius

Nice try, Pinnius. Everytime I put you down, we bowl well. I am not going to start adoring you because you donned AZ basketball gear. You're still a fat slob, even when you squeeze into a Nic Wise jersey. I bet you're going to miss that dunk and clang it off the rim. More likely you'll clang the rim right off the backboard with that divine 16 pounder. We don't need you, Pinnius. You see, just like the Wildcats, we were the 12 seed going into the 2nd half of the Bernaski season. We were that bad. There are only 10 teams in the league, and they gave us a 12 seed. But just like the Wildcats, we are sitting in a position nobody could foresee. We had our Utah (Laramie Lazer Wash), and we had our Cleveland State (Lesser Fat). Tomorrow night, we get our Louisville in the Caesars, and we are going to win without your holy blessing. I bet you were one of those gods up there in bowling heaven saying that the Cats would get bounced, just like you prognosticated for the Bowl Movements. Well, they're still dancing, just like the Movements. So, shut your "omiscient" pie hole, and get that beautiful jersey off your fat torso before you get mustard on it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Rules of Bowling: The USBC Hates Ambidexterity

This is the first in a series of posts titled "The Rules of Bowling," in which I examine the rules of tenpin bowling as spelled out by the USBC in its publication The 2008-2009 USBS Playing Rules and Commonly Asked Questions. The rules of bowling do not come close to the complexity and detail of the rules of golf, baseball, or even basketball, but there are a few gems in there. For the first post in this series, I discuss the rule concerning the use of both hands in delivery in a tournament.

Does anyone else find this rule strange? In essence, it says that people who can bowl with both hands are not permitted to do so. If I had to guess, the intent of Rule 328 is to eliminate unfair advantages. For example, if I was ambidextrous I might go after the 7 pin righty and the 10 pin lefty. Would this give me an advantage not available to others? Yes, but there are plenty of examples of this in bowling already. There is guy in our league who is about 6'6" and 250 pounds. He can whip a 16 lbs ball 24 mph. I can't do this. Does he have an unfair advantage? He certainly has an advantage that I don't, but I wouldn't call it unfair. I would call it lucky that he was born a beastly sized human, at least from the perspective of bowling, but we do not penalize him for it. Then, why is the use of both hands in a tournament grounds for disqualification? I can think of two reasons. Once upon a time, some rule making bureaucrat got his ass kicked by some dude using both hands. The other possible reason is that the USBC hates ambidexterity.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bowling like a Special Olympian

The big news of the day concerns our president's Special Olympics crack on Jay Leno last night. When I was watching the interview, as soon as he said it, I knew it would be trouble. Ob's also gave us another important piece of news. He has a new high score at bowling, a 129. This is a full 92 pins better than his previous high score. Which news is more important? That Obama makes Special Olympics jokes, or that his bowling has improved?

Obviously, the answer is his bowling. Consider that Barack Obama is an athletic fellow, and that he is very competitive. Shouldn't it be obvious that he would spend some spare time in the White House bowling alley trying to improve his game? You knew he would. I expect him to be regularly bowling in the 150's by the end of his first term. To struggle at a competitive endeavor for a guy like Obama is an endless source of frustration. He will not let that stand. They say that Obama never makes the same mistake twice. So, when he returns to the Pleasant Valley Lanes in Altoona, PA three and half years from now, he will put up a respectable score. This also means that he will not make any more Special Olympics jokes (publicly).

I will note that we all make jokes at the expense of others, and most often part of the humor involves differences that we recognize between ourselves and the subject of the joke. That our president does this too does not surprise me nor bother me, despite cringing when he made that statement. It's just something presidents should never do, and despite his comment, I would be very surprised if our President held any prejudice against folks with three #21 chromosomes. So, while this incident might keep Fox News busy for months, I can think of worse things for Presidents to do. Here's a short list:

1) Go to war illegally and on false premises.
2) Condone torture.
3) Detain individuals without charge or access to courts.
4) Drive the economy into the ground.
5) Stand around while New Orleans drowns.
6) Hire a VP who shoots somebody in the face while drunk.
7) Spy on American citizens without warrants.
8) Ignore science.
9) Out a CIA agent for political reasons.
10) Interfere in the private affairs of a family who has a brain dead member in the hospital.

Considering the above, I think it is quite nice that all we have to worry about is Barack Obama making fun of his bowling at the expense of Special Olympian bowlers.

[And here's a prediction. The next time we hear of the President's bowling, his high score will be a 148.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Single Pin Spares

In this post, I do two things. First, I look at the relative frequency of single pin spares meaning which single pins are most frequently left standing. Then, I look at our stats on picking up single pin spares over the sixteen weeks on record.

Since I started recording spares, I have observed 188 single pin spares. I would estimate that 85-90% of these were produced by right-handed bowlers. Indeed, strong handedness effects are evident in the relative frequency of single pin spares. In this sample, pins on the right side are always more likely to remain than their mirror image pins on the left. Presumably, the opposite would be true for left handed bowlers.

The bar and bubble graphs above show the relative frequency of all possible single pin spares. In the bubble graph, the bigger the bubble, the more comon the spare. What's the most common single pin left standing? It's easily the 10 pin. It accounts for slightly more than 25% of single pin spares observed. Of course this is a tough pin to pick up if you are a righty and you throw with spin. It can be tricky to spin it into the back right corner. It is followed by the 5, 6, and 7 pins. The least common single pins to be left standing are the 2, 8, and 1. Out of 188 single pin spares recorded, only two involved a solitary 1 pin.

What does this mean? Well, if you want to improve your single pin pickup rate and you are right handed, you need to master bringing the ball down the right side of the lane. Approximately 75% of the single pin spares you leave will involve pins from the center line to the right edge, and 1 of 4 will be the 10 pin. If you are a lefty, you need to master the left.

The graph above shows our team pickup percentage for single pin spares (SP%). As with all of our statistics, SP% fluctuates wildly. Our worst SP% on record is 35.7% from December 8. Our best occured on February 16 when we successfully recorded 68% of our single pin chances. In total, we have had 448 single pin spare opportunities, and we have picked up 230 of those for an average of 51.3%. If you examine the general trend, improvement is evident. SP% has improved on average about 1% every two weeks. If we keep this up, toward the end of next season, we should be picking these up at approximately a 70% clip as a team.

Looking at SP% bowler by bowler, they pattern in predictable ways. Johnebob has had the most success followed by myself, Joe, and then Geoff. While there are clear differences between bowlers, it is interesting that less than 10% separates the best from the worst Movement in this category. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement for everyone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Something to Write Home About

It is always a pleasure to write about a good night of bowling. Don't get me wrong. It was not spectacular, but it was far better than our other recent outings. We set two new team records, Game 1 pin total (626) and single pin spares (18). Johnebob put up the highest score on record, a 225, which was his 2nd 200 game in two weeks. We should come away with at least two wins. Why "should"? We bowled unopposed.

We were supposed to face the mighty men of the team known as Lesser Fat, but they were a no show, something about "Spring Break." The truth is that they were scared, and they should have been. We came out after freshly insulting Pinnius and having been beat down week after week. We stood tied for 3rd place in the league. It was time to make our move. We have been using the "Sea Biscuit Strategy." In short, you start strong, then fall back letting another team or two to get a taste of the lead. Then, you finish strongly and blow them away to take the victory.

Based on 56 games on record, it is possible to estimate with some precision what last night's performance will mean in terms of wins and losses. If Lesser Fat does not make up the game, we go 4-0. If they do, anything is possible, but certain outcomes are more likely than others. Here are the probabilities:

0-4: 1.2%
1-3: 10.3%
2-2: 32.6%
3-1: 38.7%
4-0: 17.2%

In short, it would be really unlikely and unlucky for us to win fewer than two games. This would occur less than 12% of the time. Our most likely outcome is 3-1, followed by 2-2. A 4-0 night is more likely than a 1-3. Time will tell.

The big news from last night was Johnebob's 225. With that monster game, he now holds the records for high game scores for every game, with each score exceeding 200. If you want to take away one of his records, you will have to roll at least a 201. In honor of this achievement, I thought I would look at everyone's high scores by game, shown below.

Everybody's high scores fall within a fairly narrow range. The rookie has put up highs of 169, 168, and 157 for Games 1 to 3, respectively. Joe and I have very similar highs ranging between 182 and 193. Johnebob is in a league of his own with 201 (Game 2), 213 (Game 3), and 225 (Game 1). I think John has moved into a new phase of his bowling career, which brings me to one final point. We have now observed bowlers over an extended period of time. At least three phases of bowler are recognizable. They are listed below.

Phase 1: Rookie Bowler (Avg: 110-135) Movements: Geoff
Phase 2: Developing Bowler (Avg: 135-150) Movements: Joe, Todd
Phase 3: Transitional Bowler (Avg 150-165) Movements: John

The remaining phases have yet to be determined. But thank Pinnius, we finally came together as a team, largely due to the efforts of our leadoff man who dominated the leaderboard. Now that's something to write home about.

Yet Another Bowling Haiku

Forgot the mantra
Relax and have fun with it
Take the morning train...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beratement of Pinnius

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Movements have been moving down in the standings like the Detroit Lions. Over the last six weeks, we have only won one game a night with one fluke 3-1 outing. Words of inspiration seem to have no effect. We make adjustments and adjustments to those adjustments, but as a team we cannot pull it together. I have been pondering the source of our troubles, and I have found the obvious culprit, Pinnius, God of Bowling. You see, the last time we bowled well as a team was the City Championships. Just prior to that competition, I publicly berated Pinnius. Obviously, it is time to do so again...

Pinnius, God of Bowing, you suck. I don't care if you sit in a gold throne flanked by golden bowling pins. I don't care if your stupid heavenly lair has posters of bikini girls with bowling balls. I don't care if you can bowl a perfect game anytime you choose. These are things that all gods can do. Apparently, you have seen to it that your only purpose over the last month and a half is to screw over the Bowl Movements. Don't you have something better to do? Do you have more loyal followers than us? I don't think so. We created you, for Pinnius's sake.

Here's how I see your situation. You sit up there chowing on hot dogs that have been spinning on a golden rotary hot dog cooker under a heavenly heat lamp for like six years. You polish your balls all day long. You keep guzzling bowling juice until the bowling angels have to drag your fat ass home. Basically, you have a lame and pathetic life. In the Bowl Movements, you see the kind of life you would like to be living. You see four guys in sharp shirts just trying to enjoy their Monday nights. You see four dudes who have everything, good looks, intelligence, friends, charm, charisma, and happiness. You are jealous of the Bowl Movements, aren't you? Well, fuck you, Pinnius. We don't need you. Go to bowling hell.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bowling with Granny

It was the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I was a young lad. My grandmother, known to me and all as Granny, regularly took my brother and me bowling on Rt. 1 in Northern Virginia. The place was called Penn-Daw Lanes. Now, my brother tells me, it is an appliance store. So, Penn-Daw lives on only in the memories of those who were lucky enough to try its lanes.

Granny had a regular bowling date with companions. I don’t remember all of them, nor do I remember the day. My recollection is Friday mornings; my bro says Tuesday or Wednesday. He would be the one to remember. There were the Henry’s, B.F. and Katy. John and Jane Kofler were bowlers, too. Then, there was George Bernatt. Granny and her compadres would get a couple of lanes and bowl all through the morning. She would get an adjacent lane for Scott and me.

Scoring was done by pencil and paper, and I am fairly certain that there was an opaque projector that projected the scores onto a screen above. Knock them all down on the first ball, a strike. Get ‘em on the second, it was a spare. If you got them all on the third ball, that was just a ten. Obviously, this was not ten pins. It was duckpin bowling at its best.

This was how I learned to bowl. Short squat pins and bowling balls without holes. I don’t recall much about the game except that you had three tries. I also remember that if you hit the rack dead center on the 1 pin, you could actually take out the 1 and 5 and leave everything else standing. It was like there was a chute right down the middle of the pins.

I remember John Kofler’s approach, which resembled the balletic style of Fred Flintstone. There was the utter power of George Bernatt’s throw. The pins would explode when the ball reached the end of the lane. He threw it so hard that I was actually scared of the guy. Every pair of lanes had a rack with about 20 balls, mostly house. They were black with white swirls or white with black swirls. The balls would travel back on two rails above ground between the lanes. I loved watching them come down the ramp and make the return journey.

Downstairs at Penn-Daw, you could roll ten pins, but we rarely did. Duck pins suit grandmothers and kids much better. It is a physically less demanding game with lower scoring and simpler equipment. Granny actually bought bowling balls for Scott and me. They were royal blue with white swirls. They lived in a white cardboard box in the closet. Scott says that he could still identify “his”. I thought we had joint ownership.

After bowling, we went to Krispy Kreme. This was long before the Krispy revolution of the last decade. The Krispy Kreme on Rt. 1 even in the 1970’s was a dive, but when you’re a kid, you don’t really notice it so much. On arrival, we would always look through the window to see if the doughnut machine was making doughnuts. I remember standing on my toes and pulling myself up to watch this magical machine make fried and glazed dough.

When I rediscovered bowling a couple of years ago, I had long since forgotten about my early bowling days with Granny. It was Granny who taught me how to score a bowling game. She loved to bowl, and I am forever grateful for the time we spent together when school was out in the summertime. I miss her dearly, and I wish she was still around to read this blog because I think she would enjoy reading about our weekly exploits at the lanes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Enough Already

Bowling is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. It's time we pull our heads out of our asses and win some games.

Remember the time when we were going to bowl Lazer Wash, and we arrived at the Lanes early. I took out a tape measure, and we measured the length of the lane from the foul line to the pins. "60 feet," said Joe. "Just like our gym back home," I reminded the team.

Remember when we were just a bunch of goofy, nerdy kids that lost week after week but somehow we turned it around to win the championship?

Remember when Johnebob was shot in the stomach by a bowling alley skank and was told by the doctor that he would never bowl again. Remember how he came back in his forties, and in the 10th frame with one strike, and he rolled another one. A blood stain appeared on his abdomen, and his ball came out of the chute split in half. John said, "Pick me out a good one, Geoffy." Geoffy pulled that special ball out of his sack, and Johnebob picked up the turkey, and slowly walked back bloody and wincing in pain?

Remember how I was hearing voices telling me to build a bowling alley. Remember how I did, and then a bunch of no-name 19th century bowlers showed up, including a guy who was banned for betting on bowling and not wearing bowling shoes?

Remember how Geoff had a stellar college bowling career, but then became a drunk guy who worked in the pro-shop at the lanes? He still had the talent, but he lost the passion. Then, he met that sports psychologist bimbo, started talking trash to his college buddy who went pro, and came back to compete in the U.S. Open. He would have won, but foot faulted on six consecutive frames in the last game?

Remember when the PBA went on strike, and they hired us as scab bowlers. At first, the fans hated us, but we won over their hearts. When the strike ended, the PBA fired us, but the fans wanted to keep us?

Next week, I want you all to focus on these memories, the best memories of our bowling careers. Then, get some fucking strikes already.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Which pin is the most likely to fall?

After one toss of the bowling ball, which pin or pins are the most likely to fall? Think about this problem for a minute because I am soon going to give you the answer. There are some obvious answers. Since the most common target for a right-handed bowler is the 1-3 pocket, one might expect it to be one of these pins. For a left-handed bowler, it would be the 1-2 pocket. None of these pins is the correct answer. Could it be the 4 or the 6 pin? If you hit or miss the pocket, these pins would be the next most likely to go down. It is neither of these. If you guessed the 5 pin, you are also incorrect. The most likely pin(s) to fall are in the back row. The answer? It is the 8 pin. Before we explore why that is the case, first I'll tell you how I answered the question.

For approximately the last four weeks, I have been recording spare combinations with the intent of determining how many possible spares exist in bowling. I'm not quite ready to answer that question yet, but over this time, I have recorded leaves, or the pins standing after the first ball is thrown. Of these, many are repeated. In fact, only 1 in 4 (approximately) is unique in my current sample. Nonetheless, using these data, it is possible to see how often each of the pins remains standing or goes down after the first roll. I must admit that I do not know how universal these results are, meaning that I don't know if they would apply to all bowlers. They were primarily accumulated for our team and opponents, which range in skill from ca. 128 to 200+ average bowlers. Approximately 90% of these were left by right-handed bowlers, and 10% by south paws.

The graph above shows the frequency with which each pin has been knocked down over the observation period. There are a few general patterns that can be identified. 1-The likelihood of a pin falling increases by row. The back row pins are the most likely to go down, and the front row (1 pin) is the least likely. 2-The 1 and 5 pins are the most likely to remain standing after the first ball, and were not knocked down in approximately 2 of 3 attempts. 3-For the 3rd row (4, 5, & 6 pins), the outer pins are more likely to fall than the central 5 pin. For the back row, the opposite is true. The central pins (8 & 9) are more likely to fall than the corner pins (7 & 10). 4-For every symmetrical pair of pins (2 vs. 3, 4 vs. 6, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9), the pin on the left side of the rack is more likely to fall than the one on the right, something which is likely attributable to right-handedness.

In the figure above, I have removed the asymmetry due to handedness and shown the same data as a bubble graph. Each bubble represents the pin in its position. Larger bubbles mean a greater likelihood of the pin going down after the 1st ball is thrown. The reason why the pins of the back row are the most likely to fall is simple. Except for a ball thrown in the gutter, a back row pin will always go down, or almost always (see here). If the 1 pin is not struck with the ball, it will rarely go down. I can't say that I understand the hardiness of the 5 pin as it should commonly be in the thick of the action, but it remains standing as often as the 1 pin.

So why is it that the 8 and 9 pins are the most likely to fall? Although I'm not sure, the answer must have to do with pin action. In essence, many paths lead to the 8 and 9. A ball thrown straight down the middle will take out the 8 and 9. A ball that hits the 4 or 6 pin will almost always take out at least one. In fact, it's hard to imagine many ball strikes in which both the 8 and 9 are left untouched.

Of the 456 leaves I have recorded, only 24 or 5% have both the 8 and 9 standing after the 1st ball, and of these 15 involve a gutter ball or only the 7 or 10 pin picked up. The remaining nine are all unique, and every single one couples the 8 and 9 pin with the 1 and/or 5 pin. In short, in order to leave the 8 and 9 standing requires throwing a ball off center and getting some unusual pin action. Otherwise, if you pick up at least two pins, at least one is very likely to go down, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 98% chance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I have been so busy lately that I haven't even been able to post this week's box score. I'm going to keep this BM Report brief and to the point.

Whenever we seem to regain our footing, we slip again. We have definitely been on a downward spiral of late. Prairie Rose was the latest in the series of teams that have joined the "Beat the Movements Parade of Champions." We took one of four, once again and have slipped into third place. It is getting increasingly difficult to see the world through Prairie Rose colored glasses.

Last week, we had a subpar week, something I blamed on grease. This week, we bowled virtually identically, and grease was not an issue. Last week, we recorded a total 1,671 pins, and this week, we did exactly the same. Last week, we totaled 65 marks, and this week, we put up 65 marks. We recorded four more strikes this week than last and four fewer spares. For some reason, we just aren't clicking, and we need to get this ship turned around. Fast.

Since I can't seem to write a post without some stats, I will do a bit of analysis here. Specifically, I want to focus on the bowling of our leadoff man, the Hawkeye. My impression of Johnebob's bowling in the last several weeks is that it has been very consistent. He seems to regularly put up scores and averages in the 150 to 170 range, and in fact he has. Over the last eight weeks of bowling (since Jan. 12), he has put up averages within a very narrow range. On Feb. 9, he had his lowest average of this period with a 151.3, and on January 19, he topped out at 164.3. For eight weeks, his average scores have all fallen within this range as on Monday, when he rolled an average of 164. [On Jan. 5, he had his highest average of the BIA a 177.67]. What is interesting is that he seems to do this in a different way every week.

For example, on January 12th, he recorded only 7 strikes but got 15 spares. On the 16th of February, he put up 16 strikes but only three spares. In fact, when you look at his numbers of strikes and spares over this time period, they seem to fluctuate inversely:

Over the last eight weeks, when John gets a lot of strikes, he doesn't get many spares. When his spare ball is accurate, his strike ball is not. There is one obvious explanation for this pattern: if you get a lot of strikes, you have fewer opportunities to pick up spares. Thus, we might expect such an inverse relationship to exist. For example, if you get 30 strikes in a three game series, you won't have many spare chances (6 at most). But that's not what's going on here. Pickup percentage should be independent of the number of spare opportunities you have, and if you look at Johnebob's pickup percentage vs. number of strikes for the last eight weeks, they are very strongly and negatively correlated (r=-0.8).

Over the last two months or so, it really looks like John only has had one ball. When his strike ball is on, he struggles with spares. When he is picking up spares like mad, he struggles with strikes. What is very interesting about this is that no matter what is going on, he seems to find a way to put up an average in a very consistent range while doing it very inconsistent ways. Of course, when Johnebob puts it all together, he is a force to be reckoned with, even more so than he has been of late.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Why is Bowling a Second Class Sport?

Bowling has a large following in the USA. The United States Bowling Congress claims to serve some 2.6 million bowlers annually. This stat jives with their 2007 financial statement, in which the USBC reported revenues of $26 million from membership fees; a membership currently costs $10 per person. In contrast, the United States Golf Association reported just over $19 million from Member Program Dues at a minimum per capita price of $15 or $17.25 for a dual membership. In other words, the USBC earns more money from more members at a lower cost than the USGA. Thus, one could say that bowling is more popular than golf in the USA.

But is that really true? My impression is that bowling enjoys greater membership in professional societies than golf but that golf is more popular. Part of this is likely explained by difference in membership frequency. This is not to say that more people golf than bowl, but unless you want an official handicap or want to compete in tournaments, there is really no reason to get a USGA membership, although I’m sure the USGA would disagree.

There are major differences between the two sports in terms of time, cost, and culture. A typical league bowler will finish three games of bowling before a golfer even makes the turn to the back 9. A bowling ball and shoes cost about $200, whereas a set of clubs, bag, shoes, gloves, balls, tees, and club membership dues or green fees, can cost many thousands of dollars. Culturally, golf courses are places where the financially well off congregate and dress codes control the appearance of folks strolling around the clubhouse and greens. Bowling alleys are typically dominated by blue collar folks, and usually all that is required is shoes and a shirt (pants optional). Can you imagine a country club with rental shoes? Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions to these stereotypes, but it would hard to admit that there are not serious differences demographically, economically, and culturally between the average bowler and golfer.

Television coverage of the two sports no doubt is the best measure of the popularity of the two sports. The 2007 golf US Open had 7.83 million viewers. In contrast, PBA bowling on ESPN averages about 770,000 viewers. The PBA Tournament of Champions this year was sponsored by H&R Block, the everyday man’s tax preparation accountants. In 2008, the Golf US Open was sponsored by American Express, Lexus, IBM, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Obviously, they are catering to different demographics. Tiger Woods had nearly $6 million in earnings in 2008. Norm Duke (a professional bowler) currently leads the PBA with $141,330.

When Business week ranked the most powerful people in sports in 2007, Tiger Woods was listed as No. 2. Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA was No. 34. Arnold Palmer was no. 76. There were no bowlers on the list, NONE. The President of the WNBA even appears on the list as no. 100. Clearly, bowling gets no respect. But should it? Tennis gets more airtime than bowling as does poker. If one assumes that demand is what drives what is broadcast on television, then it should be clear that there is relatively little demand to watch other people bowl on the tube. Why?

From my own perspective, I will only watch ESPN’s bowling coverage when there is nothing else of interest on TV. When I do, I have no stake in the outcome. I don’t care if the chubby guy or the well-mustachioed skinny guy wins. I sometimes watch it with an eye toward improving my own game. Now that I have bowled for three seasons, I watch with awe at how easily professional bowlers seem to pick up spares. The best moments occur when they do not convert single pins and stomp off in anger.

In contrast, watching Tiger is a completely different experience. He has been hyped since he first appeared on the scene. Every tournament in which he plays seems to be a huge drama, whether he misses the cut or blows out the competition. He is a legend in his own day. But why do I care about Tiger and not the chubby guy, whose name I can’t remember, with the thing on his wrist? (My wife just chimed in and made it very clear that Tiger Woods is “sleep withable” while chubby bowler guy is a “definite no”) Why is it that I can’t name more than two professional bowlers, but I can name 20 to 30 golfers, active, retired, living, or dead?

It’s not just me. So why is this? I don’t know. Part of this is obviously culturally constructed as are most fads. But what is the source of the cultural stereotype of bowling? Bowling is something you do with the kids. It is also something you do late at night when you are young and drunk. Professional bowlers do not fit the mold of the typical professional athlete and are the butt of jokes, as I have amply demonstrated. With few exceptions, bowling alleys are not well-maintained, stylish places to hang out. It is definitely not a sport of the social elite, and nor should it be. Of course, neither is basketball, and most professional basketball players come from humble backgrounds. To me, this suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with the sport that makes it fun to play but not fun to watch.

Here are some good things about bowling. 1) It is accessible. It is not overly expensive, even to buy one’s own equipment. 2) It is fun. People obviously enjoy doing it, otherwise 2.6 million Americans (roughly 1 out of every 116) wouldn’t be members of the USBA. 3) It can be a team or individual sport. 4) It is frustratingly simple. Most people know what they are supposed to do, but they just can’t get the ball to do it consistently. This makes bowling a sport you can work on for a lifetime, like golf, always seeking improvement. This is why bowling is compelling to do, but why isn’t it compelling to watch?

Problem 1- Scoring- I can’t help but to think that the scoring system is part of it. Most people have no idea how a match is proceeding until the announcer pronounces it over in the 8th frame. I love the scoring system, but many people don’t get it. Problem 2- Variety- Many sports have a reputation for being boring to watch, baseball and golf are obvious examples. But in both there is plenty of variety. In baseball, you have different pitches, singles, doubles, triples, homeruns, bunts, stolen bases, pick offs, errors, walks, hit batters, balks, close plays, slides, foul balls, etc. In golf, you have a range of clubs, shots, hazards, and a huge range of variation in courses. In bowling, it is pretty much the same everywhere. Sure, oil patterns are varied, but this is invisible to the audience and not something to which we can relate. In professional bowling, you have strikes, spares, and the occasional open frame and/or split. This does not cause much excitement or drama for the average viewer. Problem 3- Athletes- Professional bowlers are not particularly compelling people. Think of the back story and drama necessary in King Pin to make the final scene a thing you HAD TO WATCH, and still bowling was portrayed as a humurous and "clumsy" activity for dufouses . For most people, there is no back story to professional bowling. PBA matches look like the chubby guy down the street bowling against the mailman. Who cares.

What to do? I’m sure the PBA and USBC would love to find a way to make bowling more interesting to watch. I have no idea how to do this. It needs to be infused with drama and suspense. It needs to have more excitement. It needs to be less predictable and more variable. To be honest, I think I’d rather watch two guys or girls with 150 averages go head to head. Where every spare is desperately fought for. Where there is the risk of not breaking 100 or the promise of maybe reaching 200. Where the ball occasionally finds the gutter. Or maybe we don’t just need bowling alleys, but instead bowling courses. Imagine ten lanes with contours in elevation and curves. Each lanes differs in length, width, and the number of pins. Who knows.

I guess the bottom line is that I love to bowl, but like a lot of people, it is not very interesting when someone else bowls, even the best bowlers in the world.