Monday, March 8, 2010

Does a bad first frame portend a bad night of bowling?

Last week, EB of the Thumbhole Chronicles suggested that I look into first frame effects. According to the man from the Lone Star State, "I guarantee you that for bowlers like me, the first frame portends the outcome (most of the time-- I have been known to have three opens in a row and then mark out the rest for 160-170 game). For pros, of course, this doesn't mean a thing. Or does it?" I know what he's talking about. You step up to roll your first ball, but you leave a nasty split. Worse yet, you leave a solid 10 pin and fail to pick it up. You return to your seat having opened the first frame. Is this a symptom of things to come, or is it an isolated incident that has little bearing on what follows?

To answer this question, I performed two analyses using our database, which currently includes 552 games. In the first, I compared the outcome (strike, spare, or open) of the first frame of each game to the average game score. In the second analysis, I compared the first frame score of the first game to the score for the entire series.

Before I continue, I should note the obvious. With regard to game scores, it would be expected that a strike in the first frame would yield the highest average game scores, followed by spares and opens. However, when the outcome of the first frame of the first game is compared to the final score for the series, the effect should still be in play, but it should be much smaller since it comprises a much smaller fraction of the total score (1/30 vs. 1/10). I will also note that for a EB, a bad start seems to have the opposite effect.

The bar graphs below compare average game scores to first frame outcomes for the four primary BM bowlers this season. Generally speaking, the data pattern in predictable ways. For three bowlers (JL, TS, and JD), average game scores are greatest when the first frame is struck. For all four bowlers, the lowest game scores occur when Frame 1 is left open. For the Rookie (JG), the highest average game scores occur when the first frame is a spare. There is another interesting difference relating to our cleanup man, JD. For the other three bowlers, the difference between the best and worst average game scores is typically around 10 pins (the difference between a mark and an open frame), but for JD, the difference is 27 pins. If he records a strike in Frame 1, he averages 161.6 pins a game. If he leaves the first open, he only averages 134.5, a huge difference. For JD, what happens in Frame 1 seems to be extremely important in determining the outcome of a game.

The situation is similar for series scores as shown below. For three bowlers (JL, JG, and JD), the highest average for a series occurs when the first frame of Game 1 is a strike. I do slightly better, however, if I pick up a spare to start the night. The difference in series average between a struck and open 1st frame depends upon the bowler. For JL and TS, the differences are minimal, but again for JD, there is a massive difference. In fact, the difference is amazing. If he gets a strike in the opening frame, he ends up on average with 65 more pins for the series than if he leaves it open. It is the difference between a 481 series and a 416.

So does a bad first frame portend a bad night of bowling? Yes and no. It seems to depend upon the bowler. For three of us, it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. In fact, the effect is pretty much what you would expect. For Joe, our anchor, the effect appears to be enormous. For this reason, I hope he never reads this because it will turn him into a head case. Stepping up to bowl on the first frame in league night is very much like standing on the 1st tee at the golf course. You want to blister one right down the middle of the fairway, but if you slice it into the deep grass, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you want to turn things around, you have to just forget about it and move on. Johnebob seems to be very capable of this; Joe,well, umm...


  1. A head case? I know someone like that. :)

  2. I am increasingly feeling like a headcase on league nights, too. It seems to be a matter of confidence.

  3. I tend to bowl better when I'm in a good mood and my mood gets pretty ugly when I start the night with an open frame.


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