Friday, November 20, 2009

Will a new bowling ball improve your game?

Last Monday, I wrote about bowling balls, specifically that the USBC is changing one of its regulations on ball specifications to take a little bit of action out highly engineered balls. Apparently, the USBC feels that advances in ball technology are inflating scores. I equated this problem to the use of steroids in baseball , which made one commenter, who apparently sells bowling balls, a bit irked. All of this got me thinking about the age old question of how much equipment really matters. A friend of mine once said, "Golf is men's excuse to go shopping." Dudes like new toys, and sports marketers have done a good job training us to believe that we could definitely do better at any sporting endeavor with some new gear. Is this true?

At the end of last season, three of us retooled our bowling bags. We all made the change from what were basically house balls to bowling spheres with a lot more break. It was my hope that we would start getting a lot more strikes. Well, the time has arrived to see if in fact that has happened. Since we reequipped, each of us have more than 24 games and 240 frames to our name.

I decided to look at strikes and spares individually, the two major currencies of success in the art of rolling. Let's begin with strikes. The graph below shows the strike percentage for each bowler before and after the upgrade. There are three questions here: Was there a change? Which way did it go? And is it meaningful? The last question is the most subtle. Statistically speaking, we would expect slight variation in strike percentage due to chance even if there was no change. Going back to my favorite analogy, flip a coin 100 times and count the number of heads you get. Now repeat the experiment. You are likely going to get a slightly different result even though nothing changed. Likewise, if you roll 100 frames twice, you will very likely get a slightly different number of strikes each time. Statistically, it's not difficult to evaluate whether any of the observed differences are meaningful, which would indicate that something other than chance can explain the change, such as the use of a new bowling ball.

So what happened? In short, not much. The only meaningful difference is for JD. He has gone from a strike percentage of 23% with his Qubica House Ball to nearly 32% with his new Hammer Raw Acid. This means he gets about one more strike per game. JPL has gone in the opposite direction. His strike percentage has dropped about 5%, although the difference is not significant. My strike percentage is up over a little more than 1%, something that can easily be explained by chance. For all of us combined, strike percentage has improved from 27.8 to 29.8%, a difference that is not meaningful.

In short, the new balls seem to have no effect for two of us, but Daniele seems to have made a big jump. I'm not sure why he is the only one reaping the benefits of a new ball, but it might be explained by custom fitting. Prior to the switch, he used a hand me down ball that was not drilled for his hand. Johnny and I both had custom fits prior. Or perhaps, as Hammer would like us to believe, his ball has actually helped him. I actually lean toward the latter.

What about spares? It's hard to imagine how our upgrade would affect our pickup rate. Having a ball with a lot of break isn't really an advantage when cleaning up leaves. You could even see it as somewhat detrimental. (e.g., It's harder to tuck into the 10 pin if you're a righty.) Interestingly, all of us have improved our spare game. The greatest difference is for myself, with an 8% improvement. None of the differences for individuals are statistically meaningful, but for all of us combined, there appears to be a real difference. We are getting 4% more spares than before the switch. Is this due to the equipment change, or is it just because we are becoming better bowlers? I favor the 2nd explanation- it is about skill.

In brief, after the Great Ball Transplant, we have benefited slightly, especially Daniele, who has been getting a lot more strikes. We all have made slight gains in our spare game, something I think is difficult to attribute to our new balls. So, will dropping $150 on a new hi-fi ball add 10 pins to your average? I don't know. For the three of us, only JD seems to have spent his money wisely. Those people who make and sell balls will tell you that it will for sure. Maybe we bought the wrong balls. All I can tell you is that I hoped for more strikes with my Brunswick Smash Zone, and it just isn't happening. I can also tell you that the next time I tell my wife that I need a new ball, she is going to point to this and say, "Uh huh, sure you do." I will respond, "I need a Hammer Raw Acid. Look what it did for Joe." By the way, Hammer, did I mention that were are looking for a sponsor?


  1. I've asked myself this question 3 times... The answer varies. No. Yes. And (right now) not really.

  2. That's sort of what I wrote, isn't it? Maybe there's a little change. Maybe not. I guess I just wanted to see a big change, and I haven't. However, I am fairly certain that Joe D. has benefited greatly, that lucky bastard. Ebonite/Hammer should be singing his praises.

  3. No but we have suspected him of using the Agassi method for many years now.


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