Saturday, March 13, 2010

Strikes Per Game

When I started keeping track of my bowling stats about 16 months ago, I did so because I felt it would help me better understand my tendencies. I would also be able to track my trends to figure out which parts of my game were improving, and which parts were slipping. Also, I think that knowledge is a good thing even when there is no obvious immediate value to it. It didn't take me long to figure out what now seems so obvious. If I ever wanted to bowl a 200 game, I would have to figure out how to hit the pocket and how to do it regularly. I can't do this quite yet, but I'm getting better.

The value of strikes in bowling is simple. With the exception of the 2nd and 3rd ball in the 10th frame, the next two balls you throw count toward the strike frame. Land a turkey, and the frame with the first strike is worth 30 pins. Keep that chain of X's going, and you add 30 pins to your score every time all the pins fall.

This is not to take anything away from spares. Spares are a good thing, too, and to become a master, you need a great spare game. But with a spare in every frame, your score ceiling is 190 (or 191 if strike your last ball). It seems mildly ironic to me that there are approximately 280 different spare combinations you can face as a bowler, many of which require different and very precise shots, but spares count for less. Picking up spares, especially the ugly ones like splits and the 3-9, is considerably more difficult than getting a strike. Trying to convert spares all night long is draining. You have to work harder to do it, but the reward is less.

Anyway, there are various ways to measure your striking ability as a bowler. I often use strike%, or the percentage of strike opportunities converted. In this post, I want to look at strikes per game. When you are at the lanes, I think it's a bit more intuitive to see things this way. This statistic can vary between 0 and 12. At this stage of my bowling development, I am usually happy if I average 4.0 strikes per game over a three game set, but this season, I have averaged 3.5.

For the 189 series I have on record, which are spread among seven bowlers, the relationship between strikes per game and series score is very strong. It is shown in the graph below and on the left. The general relationship is clear, and it allows you to set some simple targets. If you are shooting for a 400 series, you should be aiming for around 2 strikes per game. If your goal is 500, you will need around 4 strikes per game. If you your are shooting for the magical land of 600, a good target is 6 X's per 10 frames, and it only gets more difficult from there. I'm not saying you absolutely need 6 strikes per game to get to 600 or that if you do this you are guaranteed to get there. In fact, you can in theory do it with as few as 2.0 per game, but you leave yourself a lot more to do in terms of picking up spares. You can also fail to reach 600 with as many as 10 strikes per game, but this would be a very unusual outcome.

Notice in contrast that the number of spares converted is much more weakly correlated with series score. Spare conversion is important. I would have had my first 600 series last week if my spare game was on, but spares are much less meaningful in determining the scoring outcome of a game. Notice that two of our highest series of all time have come with fewer than two spares per game. The reason is simple. If you are getting a lot of strikes, there are fewer opportunities to pick up spares, so a paucity of spares does not necessarily equate to a lot of spare leaves left unconverted

I will also note that if you view the game this way, goals seem less difficult to attain. I average 3.5 X's per game for the season. Next season, I'd like to get that to 4.0. If I did, I would be averaging a 500 series rather than seeing that as a really good night. To get from 3.5 to 4.0, I need to get on average one to two more strikes over a three game series. When viewed this way, it seems like a goal that is very reachable.

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