August 30, 2012

An Addition To The Family

Earlier this month I finally pulled the trigger and purchased a ball for heavy oil conditions. I had done a lot of research on RG, differential, coverstocks, etc. and was prepared to buy a new ball when another bowler in my summer league mentioned that he was selling a few of his. I mentioned what I was looking for and he pointed me toward his Brunswick C-(System) alpha-max.

Isn't it cute?
I had it refitted this afternoon and threw a few frames with it on an old wooden lane, but I can already tell that this is going to fill the gap in my arsenal. I'll test it out some more on Tuesday when I go to pre-bowl and hopefully get a better handle on how the ball reacts on a THP on synthetic lanes.

On a side note: it was really difficult to find a pro shop in Pittsburgh's North Hills. I ended up at an 8-lane alley above a diner. The lanes and approaches were all old wood and they showed their age. The ball returns looked like they were from the late 1950s and the ball rolled back between the gutters at lane level. Almost unbelievably the alley did have automatic scoring. The pro shop was essentially a closet with a shop vac, sander, small cardboard boxes filled with inserts and some measuring equipment. The drills were in some mysterious back room which probably also doubled as the diner's kitchen.  But as long as everything fits alright I'd probably go back.

So no more excuses now. The equipment is there, now I just have to use it.

August 29, 2012

Week 1 Recap

Game 1: 171
Game 2: 136
Game 3: 209
Series: 516
Week Avg: 172
Season Avg: 172

The first game started off pretty well.  While I didn't throw many strikes, I was in the pocket just about every shot. I missed a 10-pin by hair inside and opened on a late split, but other than that it was pretty uneventful. I threw a 171.

The second game was a reminder as to why I am not a great bowler.  I left four splits this game, in addition to a missed 6-pin. I was consistent, but unfortunately I was consistent in not hitting my mark. Every ball hit either light or high and the shots I did have in the pocket just didn't carry.  I didn't feel very comfortable, which was odd since I spent the entire summer on difficult oil patterns. This was supposed to be easy. My 136 begs to differ. I'll never make the transition from a good bowler to a great bowler without the ability to recognize and troubleshoot the errors in my game.

To start the third game I decided to concentrate on a few things. 1) Don't rush. Bowl at a comfortable speed for me. 2) Keep my shoulders parallel to the foul line and don't dip my right shoulder at release. And 3) Hold my finish. All of a sudden I was hitting my mark and carrying with more frequency. The leaves I did have were typically corner pins. I finished with a clean 209, but an underwhelming series.

All of my research into the strategies of a sandbagger must have slipped into my subconscious. This outing was well under average and rather disappointing. Luckily we were bowling against a team we knew, so I didn't feel too bad.

We are off next week for Labor Day, but I plan to pre-bowl on Tuesday and Thursday for the two weeks I will miss while recovering from my gall bladder surgery on September 14th.

Its gotta get better from here.

August 22, 2012

Starting the Sandbagger Prevention League

The beginning of the fall league season is upon us, and with the start of our real leagues comes the start of the experimental, quasi-fictional, Sandbagger Prevention League.

I outlined the concept for the league in a previous post, so I won't repeat myself here.  In addition, I have created an entire page dedicated to tracking the progress of the league throughout the season (see the SPL link at the top?) and explaining the various formats being tested.

Joining me and my fictional, unethical bowler Sam Sandbagger, are: Lauren (my wife), Doc, EBH of Thumbhole Chronicles, and, of coarse, my buddy Matt at Bowling Rollercoaster, who is contributing scores from all three of his leagues for this project.I couldn't do this without you guys and I hope we get some real results when the league wraps up.

The league will run for 32 weeks and if any of the participants are in leagues shorter than that I know they practice enough to cover the extra weeks. They will submit their scores in the comments section of the SPL page by listing the week number and their three games.  In Matt's case, he'll need to specify to which Matt the scores belong (Matt 1, 2, or 3).  If they maintain a public score sheet, like Bowling Tracker, I can use that instead.

The most difficult part of creating this league was trying to get inside the head of a sandbagger. I've grappled for a few weeks on how to develop a sandbagger's strategy. What should the scores be early in the season?When should Sam start bowling well? How blatant is a sandbagger when throwing under their real average? How bad is too bad for a sandbagger?

Sam is going to be a conscientious sandbagger, never totally tanking a game but only bowling to his full potential when he has to. Sam is a 200 average bowler; however, at the start of the season he is going to throw around 150. He'll bowl better when facing opponents with higher averages to take advantage of his higher handicap and he'll bowl closer to his lower average against opponents with lower averages. I will create Sam's scores based on his opponent's average before they submit their scores, so I will have no influence on Sam's performance.

If any one has any questions about the league please let me know in the comments.  Otherwise, the first set of scores will be rolled this Friday and the league will be underway.

Thanks again for all of your help

August 20, 2012

Back to the THP

This past weekend was my first foray onto a typical house pattern since I started the PBA Experience League. I wanted to see how the league has affected my performance before the start of the fall league and, overall, I was happy with what I saw.

I threw a 224 my first game with my only open occurring in the first frame. The pattern at this particular bowling center was a few feet shorter than my usual house, so the ball hooked earlier than what I will see this fall. Prior to the sport league, my first move would have been to shift my body left a few boards. But instead, recalling my experience on the shorter PBA patterns, I moved my body and mark further right and it worked great. If I missed my mark a couple boards right the ball would still come back to the pocket; however, if I missed left the ball would catch the heavier oil in the middle of the lane and hit the headpin head-on. This became a problem late in my second game into the third game before I finally made an adjustment to the left. I threw a 189 in both games.

I was happy with how I reacted to the lanes. I felt that I made better adjustments, but I am still just a bit too slow in implementing them. I still think that can be attributed to my inconsistently. If I throw a few bad balls in a row, by the time I am back on target the pattern has changed and I need to waste a few more frames relocating.

One feature of this bowling center that I did enjoy was that they listed the ball speed on the screen. I found out that my regular first ball speed is typically 15.6 mph and I can maintain that speed throughout the course of three games. I did notice that when I shoot corner pins, particularly the 10-pin, my speed jumps up to over 18 mph. This makes sense because I am usually trying to make sure the ball doesn't hook too much, so in addition to not rotating my wrist at release I will throw the ball a little faster. In retrospect, though, I wonder if this increased ball speed affects my accuracy so much that it causes me to occasionally miss my marks on spare shots.

Fall league starts one week from tonight and I'm excited to get started. New league. New competition. New skills. New knowledge. Same friends. Two of the guys from last year's team are sticking with me, my wife is coming back, and Joe, who bowled with my wife and I in a rec league a few years ago, is going to join us. Its going to be fun.

Here we go . . .

August 18, 2012

PBA Experience League Recap

Pattern Final Averages

Cheetah: 187 (12 games)
NCAA#3: 183 (8 games)
Viper: 172 (12 games)
Scorpion: 170 (12 games)
Shark: 167 (8 games)

League Summary

Looking back, I think that my performance on the PBA patterns was slightly better than expected. While it was frustrating at the time, I knew coming in that these patterns would test the skills I had and expose the ones I lacked, and once I came to the realization that the league wasn't about scoring, but rather about learning, I started to bowl better.

I finished the league with a 176 average, which up until the beginning of August 2012 translated to a 193 average on a typical house pattern. I make the distinction because since the beginning of August, a 176 Sport League average now translates to a 198 THP average. The reason for such a dramatic jump in the adjusted average is that the USBC collected the data to create the adjusted average chart in two completely different ways. I won't go into the details here, but Jeff Richgels breaks it all down on his blog. In either case, my adjusted average is higher than what my final average has ever been; however, there are a few factors that come into play. The biggest factor is that I bowled about half the number of games in this league than I do in my usual league. With a smaller sample size, it is easier to distort the average of an overall performance.

I threw eleven 200 games during the league, which equates to 21% of the total games bowled. I also threw at least two 200 games on each pattern with the exception of the Shark, on which I threw none. My high game was a 235 on the Cheetah and my high series was a 771 on NCAA#3.

Self Evaluation

Not surprisingly, I fared much better on the shorter patterns. Since I typically throw down and in, I wasn’t trying to force a big hook into the pocket like some other bowlers. I did my best on the shorter patterns with heavier oil in the front end because my line was pretty direct toward the pocket, with a sharp hook at the end to drive through the rack. I wish I could have my missed week on the NCAA#3 back because I think my pattern and season average could have been a bit higher with an extra four games.

Again, not surprisingly, my worst pattern average was on the Shark.  This is the pattern that took me the farthest from my comfort zone, essentially narrowing the lane by 10 boards on either side forcing me to play deeper inside. The Scorpion was the other longer, heavier oil pattern and I struggled there as well. These patterns further exposed my need for a more reactive heavy oil ball and I am in the process of filling out my arsenal as a result.

Another glaring statistic is that my third game average, 166.77, is nearly ten pins under my season ending average and exactly ten pins under my next lowest game average, which belongs to the first game of the night. This tells me that I still need to work on quickly recognizing changes on the lane so that I can adjust my body position and mark before it impacts my scores. That being said, my final game average is 180.15 which tells me that even though it takes some time for me to recognize changing lane conditions, I do eventually make the correct adjustments.

Problems with the League

I developed a laundry list of grievances throughout the course of this league and after speaking with a few folks it sounds like these are all recurring issues from previous seasons. Many, if not all, of these problems could be solved by not having the bowling center manager and, might I add, the father of the high school All-American serving as league president.

The first problem is that the league didn't stick to the rules and oil pattern schedule distributed on Week 1. I unfortunately missed a week of bowling due to hospitalization and my teammate missed a week due to a vacation. While the rules stated that absent bowlers are given their average as their score for that week, we were not awarded any points if the opposing bowler did not beat our score. This most likely would not have provided enough points to move up in the standings, but why have rules if you are just going to make up new ones? 

Also, while we did receive a week's notice that the NCAA#4 pattern would be replaced by the Shark pattern; we received no notice that the last week on the Shark was being replaced by an extra week of the Viper. If you go back and read my description of each of these patterns, you will notice that they are polar opposites of each other. This change in pattern also happened to coincide with the All-American's second place team facing off against the first place team. Basically the All-American was able to utilize the league's two practice sessions to prepare for the Viper while her opponents walked in with equipment for a long heavy oil pattern instead of a short light oil pattern. It cost them the lead that night and they were not able to recover.

In the end, the league basically served as a way for the All-American to earn more scholarship money from all of us thanks to the manipulation of the rules and oil patterns by her father. There is a reason that not many people bowl in this league more than once and I will be joining them in that decision. If I choose to bowl in a PBA Experience League again I will be sure that it is sanctioned and has some means of accountability.

If I Had My Own PBA Experience League

Now don't get me wrong, the actual bowling was a great experience despite all the league BS that went along with it. But I think more could have been done to make this league more educational and fun for the entire group.

Given the 14 week format we used this year, I would advocate two weeks per PBA animal pattern and the US Open pattern for the first twelve weeks. At the beginning of the first week of each new pattern there would be a short tutorial session where the oil layout is discussed. The PBA produced videos about each animal pattern on YouTube could also be utilized. This allows everyone to be on the same playing field and have an understanding of what the preferred lines are for each pattern. This was how I prepared for the animal patterns and these videos provide a great introduction and idea of what to expect on the lanes.

The results of the first twelve weeks would serve as the basis for seeding a tournament in the remaining two weeks of the league. The tournament patterns would be voted on by the league and announced at the end of week 12 to ensure that teams bring the correct equipment for the lane conditions. The results of the tournament would serve as the final league standings, providing every team a chance to compete for the league championship and maintaining the feel of competition throughout the entire season.

Sport Leagues as a Solution to Sandbagging?

In the Richgels' blog post I mentioned above, he also made an interesting connection between Sport Leagues and the recent discussions of sandbagging and handicap leagues. He noted that one way to eliminate sandbagging is to make Sport Leagues the norm, encouraging competitive bowling over the recreational bowling that has recently gained the most support and is seen by many as the downfall of our sport. This way tournament averages, even on a THP, would use Sport League averages instead of general league averages, thus giving an advantage to those who take the time to get better. This is probably the most favorable solution I have heard concerning the issue of sandbagging because it is the first one to actually encourage the improvement of ability. If you want to succeed in Sport Leagues you have to be good, there's no faking it, and I imagine it would be much harder for a sandbagger to turn it on all of sudden like they tend to do on a THP.

Final Note

I suppose I won't really be able to evaluate the success of this league until I am able to reflect on my performance this fall. A jump in my average, increase in accuracy or ability to adjust more quickly to changing conditions would all be indicators that the PBA Experience was a worthwhile experience for me.

August 17, 2012

Week 14/Viper Recap

Game 1: 176
Game 2: 211
Game 3: 192
Game 4: 169
Series: 748
Week Avg: 187
Viper Avg: 172
Season Avg: 176

I started out the evening with a great practice session. I was throwing strikes with ease and had plenty of time to shoot corner pins before the start of the first game. At the completion of practice I was standing with my left foot on the 22 board and throwing at the 7 board at the arrows (blue line on diagram).

Unfortunately the good shots didn't follow me into the first game as I left the 1-2-4-7 in the first frame and hooked the ball just past the headpin on my spare shot for an open. I threw a few good balls, but overall I had a difficult time hitting my marks, both at the arrows and at the break point. When I did hit my marks, though, the ball was coming in a bit light. Luckily my only other open in the game was a barely missed 3-10 split. I finished the game with a 176.

To start the second game I moved my body one board right (black line on diagram) and started hitting great. I was in the pocket just about every shot and the spares I did leave were typically single pins. I shot my first clean game in weeks for a 211.

An errant ball to start the third game left the 1-2-4 which I managed to chop for an early open, but overall I was still throwing really well.  The few times I did miss my mark were easily diagnosed and corrected. I opened once more by chopping the 3-6 in the eighth frame and finished with a 192.

The last game gave me some problems. I started by opening my third first frame of the night by just missing the 4-pin. I followed that up by hooking the ball past the headpin for the 1-3-8-9 in the second frame and the 1-2-4-10 in the seventh.  Much of the rest of the game consisted of spares from light pocket hits. I tried moving back on the approach, but in retrospect I should have moved right to standing at the 20 board and shooting at the 6. I struck in the tenth frame, but followed it up by opening a 1-2-4 on my last ball for a 169.

Overall, not a bad finish to the league. My biggest enemy this week was keeping my own pace and not rushing through the games. Once I gathered myself and controlled my pace I was in pretty good shape. I enjoyed the Viper, despite the debacle my first week on the pattern, and I thought that it was slightly more forgiving than the other animal patterns we faced.

I now have a ten day break before my fall league starts on the 27th. Between now and then I am planning to go out for one practice session so my wife can shake off the rust after taking a year off and so I can evaluate my performance on a typical house pattern after a summer on PBA patterns. I will have a PBA Experience League recap, practice session recap, and Sandbagger Prevention League introduction before the 27th.

August 13, 2012

Week 13/Viper Recap

Game 1: 202
Game 2: 162
Game 3: 203
Game 4: 171
Series: 738
Week Avg: 184
Viper Avg: 165
Season Avg: 175

What a difference a little preparation can make. After reviewing my earlier post on the Viper pattern, I came into the week with a plan. Play as far outside as I can and move my line inside as the pattern breaks down throughout the night to find more oil. Practice went smoothly and I started the first game with my left foot on the 21 board and throwing at the 6 board just left of the first arrow (blue line on diagram).

The first game started a little rough as I missed an easy 6-pin to open in the first frame. Luckily I was able to shake it off and throw a good mix of strikes and spares the rest of the game for a 202. I felt like I had more control over how the ball was moving and the majority of my hits were in the pocket. It was a great first game to help me forget about last week.

The second game started off with a few spares before the bottom dropped out. Starting in the fifth frame I left the 5-6 split, chopped a 6-10, and left the 2-4-10. I wasn't coming through the ball very well so I made an effort to concentrate on my release and the problem resolved itself. I stayed clean the rest of the way and finished with a 162.

One of our opponents was playing a similar shot to mine, so I moved my body and mark a board left to the 22 and 7 boards, respectively, to start the third game (black line in diagram). I was back in the pocket and striking pretty well. My only blemish was a missed 4-pin in the sixth frame when the ball hooked a little more than expected. I finished with a 203.

The last game saw another missed 4-pin, this time in the seventh frame, but overall I was in good shape for another over average game. Unfortunately I also missed a 10-pin in the tenth frame to keep me under average with a 171.

I felt pretty good this week for a few reasons. One was that, like I mentioned earlier, I felt more in control of the ball. I knew where the break point was and was able to get the ball there with consistency. I anticipated the pattern breaking down and was able to successfully adjust. I was also able to control my body. I consistently hit my marks and, when I did miss, was able to quickly diagnose and correct the issue. Mainly it was that I was dropping my shoulder at the foul line, so by keeping my upper body straight at release I was able to follow through more effectively. My realization a few weeks ago that this is a learning experience, especially since we clinched last place about half way into the season, also helped a bit.

Another big reason was that I was having fun. I really like the guys we were bowling against this week, too bad it was only our second time going head to head. They were both good bowlers and had no intention of rushing through the games. We kept a steady pace and finished in under two hours, but we were the last pair to finish by an entire game. Our two teams also shared the same views on certain people and aspects of the league, but I'll air our grievances in my league recap.

So this coming Thursday is our last week for the league and the Viper pattern. I hope I can keep the momentum going for Thursday and take it into the fall league.

August 8, 2012

The Sandbagger Prevention League

There has been a lot of talk in the bowling blogosphere (yes, one actually exists) recently about whether handicap leagues are ruining the sport, specifically by serving as an invitation for better bowlers to partake in sandbagging. Sandbagging is when a bowler purposefully bowls below their ability early in the season to establish a lower average, and thus higher handicap, in that league. At a certain point in the season or against particularly good opponents, that bowler will then begin to bowl to the best of their ability to create extraordinarily high games, when combined with their handicap, and collect wins; however, since their average had initially been so low, it will take longer for the sandbagger’s average to reach anywhere close to their actual ability.

So how can bowling as a sport discourage sandbagging? Do away with handicap leagues and force all bowlers to get better? Banish those caught sandbagging from sanctioned leagues? Place a limit on the amount of pins one bowler is permitted in handicap? I am interested in hearing any and all ideas, and here’s why:

I'd like to conduct an experiment. I want to create a league in which we can test the various proposals to discourage sandbagging, but I’ll need your help. I am looking for bowlers willing to submit scores from one of their leagues each week as a contribution to the Sandbagger Prevention League (SPL). The SPL will be comprised of all readers that wish to volunteer, ideally an odd number of at least 7 real bowlers, as well as a fake bowler, Sam Sandbagger. Each week you would be matched up head to head with a different bowler in the league. If I cannot find enough people and someone bowls in multiple leagues I can use your scores from each league, but you will have to bowl against yourself some weeks (did I just blow your mind?). Most often you are bowling against a real person, but occasionally you will be matched up against Sam Sandbagger. Sam will start the season off bowling below his usual average (I will choose this average once I have a list of averages for all participants), but as the league goes on Sam will bowl better. Sam will also bowl over average when he is competing against members with higher averages. I will determine Sam’s scores for the week based on his opponent’s average before receiving the scores of his opponent, so you will have the same chance of defeating Sam as you would if he were actually bowling with you. Bowlers will receive one point for each game they win against that week’s opponent and earn two points by having the higher series.

The SPL will simultaneously run in varying formats. Each week I will calculate the standings as a scratch league, 100% handicap league, 80% handicap league and any possible solutions to solving the sandbagger phenomenon that we can think of, such as dividing the league into two divisions based on average and resetting the divisions at the halfway point. That means that a different bowler could win the league in each format tested. Once the league is over, I will analyze each format to see what type of impact they had on Sam Sandbagger, how competitive they were, and whether or not actual bowling ability is reflected in the final standings. The end goal is to identify a league format that is competitive and rewards good bowling without discouraging newcomers to the game.

So all I need now are a few volunteers and ideas on how we can eliminate the sandbagger from league bowling. Who wants to join the revolution?

August 6, 2012

Week 12/Viper Recap

Game 1: 134
Game 2: 139
Game 3: 168
Game 4: 143
Series: 584
Week Avg: 146
Viper Avg: 146
Season Avg: 174

I was excited to come to bowling this week because I wanted more more crack at the Shark pattern. However, as you can see by the title of this post and the oil pattern diagram to the left, we did not bowl on the Shark as scheduled. Instead, we were informed just before practice started that we were going to start bowling on the Viper pattern a week early. I'll save my grievances with this league for my season recap, but needless to say I am now just adding to the list of reasons why I will not be bowling in this league next summer.

I like research. I feel most comfortable when I have some knowledge of the pattern I am facing and can visualize the pattern to understand why my ball reacts a certain way. During the week leading up to a new pattern, I spend some time reviewing instructional video and read all I can on how bowlers throw successfully on the new pattern. I had done all of this research back in May for the Viper on some bad information from the league president/bowling center manager (you can view that post here). My plan was to review that post before the first week on the Viper, but instead I came into this week blind.

The Viper is basically the exact opposite of the Shark. While the Shark is a long pattern with heavy oil on the outside forcing bowlers to throw deep inside with little hook, the Viper is a short pattern with light oil causing the ball to hook early. I remembered that the pattern was short, but I couldn't remember the preferred line to play. During practice I found a line that was working standing with my left foot at the 22 board and throwing at the 10 board, similar to a dry house pattern (black line on diagram).

I immediately began to fail in the first game by leaving the 4-9 and 6-7-10 splits in the second and third frames, respectively. I followed those up with a chopped 1-2-8 in the fourth. The highlight of the night came in the sixth frame when I converted the 4-7-10 split, but no one saw this great shot because they were watching Olympic women's judo. I missed a 2-4-5-8 in the seventh and 3-9 in the ninth frame to clinch a truly awful 134. The worst part about the splits during this game was that they were the result of slightly high pocket hits. Those shots didn't look like they should have been as catastrophic as they turned out to be.

The second game was more of the same, though I decided to move right a bit to standing at the 21 board and throwing at the 7 (red line on diagram). I'm not going to bore you with the details, but it didn't go well. My ball is drilled to hook a little earlier on the lane, an attribute that usually works to my advantage, but not this night. Luckily I had my old Columbia Boss Titanium with me and I decided to switch to that starting at the sixth frame. Now this ball doesn't hook as early as the Python and is a little less reactive in general, so my thought was to get this ball to hook further down the lane or at least ease the entry angle into the pocket to avoid the splits. My only miss after switching balls in the second game was an easy 8-pin and I finished with a 139.

To start the third game I moved left to try to find a little more oil in the frontend of the lane, standing at 22 1/2 and throwing at the 8 board (blue line on diagram). I hit high to leave the 4-6-7 in the second frame and missed a 5-pin in the seventh. I am missing entirely too many 5-pins lately. My only other open this game was a 1-2-9 in the ninth, but a lack of strikes kept this game to a 168.

In the fourth game I reverted back to either light pocket hits or Brooklyn shots, leaving multiple pins for many shots. I opened in four frames, including the ninth and tenth, all with seven counts on the first ball. I finished with a 143 game and a series I would have been ashamed of if I had only bowled three games, let alone the four I bowled this outing.

Now I don't mean for my lack of preparation for the Viper to sound like an excuse (though its very difficult for me to believe that, so I don't know why I expect you to). For the most part my adjustments were correct, with the exception that I never moved far enough outside, but how I started the night sabotaged the entire evening. I started by playing further inside, then moved outside, and then came back inside again.  This caused me to push through the oil too early in the night, leaving me nothing to adjust into when the lanes started grabbing really early later on. Next week I will start the evening playing closer to the gutter and as the night progresses I can move left into the oil.

Everyone was struggling, so I don't feel too bad, but I have two more weeks left in this experiment they call the PBA Experience League, and I plan to make the most of it.