Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What does it take to be a professional bowler? A first look

Considering becoming a professional bowler? Not me. I'm a terrible bowler. Still, I have wondered how my stats compare to those of a pro, but I have found that it is actually very difficult to find basic statistics to describe the aptitude of professional bowlers. The PBA really only lists averages, TV appearances, titles, and other broad categories. I suspect they hold their stats card tight to their chest, so they can control the fantasy market.

To get around PBA stats censorship, over the last two weeks,I decided to take matters into my own hands. PBA bowling is aired every Sunday morning on the Entertainment Sports Programming Network, and the stats are right there for the taking if you have the patience to score the games yourself. These stats were culled from the final rounds of two events: Bayer Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles and the 67th Lumber Liquidators U.S. Open. They include a total of 14 games and 10 bowlers, of which three are women and seven are men.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. First, these data only include the final rounds, or bowlers who have generally bowled very well, so the numbers may be a bit high. Second, this is not a large sample of games, so I don't know to what extent they are representative of pro bowlers as a whole. Third, these games were bowled on tournament oil conditions which are considerably more difficult than the standard "house shot" to which most people are accustomed, so you should be somewhat hesitant to compare them directly to your stats. Nonetheless, my gut feeling is that they are fairly representative of high level professional bowling under tournament conditions.

So how did they do? Over these 14 games, the average score was a 224, which equates to a 673 series. This is a very high average, so these numbers are probably a little inflated. Regardless, how did they get there? Well, they struck nearly 60% of their chances, or an average of 6.7 strikes per game. When they didn't record a strike, what happened? I observed 61 opportunities to convert spares. Of those, 48 were successfully picked up, or a conversion rate 79%. Why did they miss? In most cases, the spares not picked up were splits. I observed 11 total splits, or slightly fewer than 1 per game. Of those splits, only two were converted successfully. Very few makeable spares were not converted, single pins are the best example. Of the 32 opportunities to convert single pin spares that I observed, 30 were converted, or 94%. Here's a simple summary of their performance:

So, are you still thinking of going pro? The biggest problem with comparing the stats of amateurs to those of pros relates to strikes. Oil conditions most seriously affect the strike throw. If you can pick up your spares like a pro and strike 65% to 75% of your chances under easy conditions, your game might be in the right ballpark. Otherwise, forget about it.


  1. I most definitely fall into the ballpark of 'forget about it'.


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