Helping Teams Score, Behind the Scenes

collage of Lee Mendelowitz, Di Zou and Benjamin Eidelberg

Clockwise from top, Benjamin Eidelberg ’15, M.S. ’16, Lee Mendelowitz M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’15, and Di Zou ’09 tackle mountains of data as sports anaytics experts for the Washington Wizards, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, respectively.

Spring 2024 Post-Grad

3 Alums Crunch Numbers as Sports Analytics Experts for Pro Teams in the DMV

From shooting guard Kevin Huerter in the NBA to second baseman Brandon Lowe in MLB, University of Maryland fans can easily find Terps suiting up throughout professional sports. But beyond the fields and courts, three alums are tuning up their statistical models to help local teams succeed.

Lee Mendelowitz M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’15, senior director of research and development for the Washington Nationals; Di Zou ’09, director of baseball systems for the Baltimore Orioles; and Benjamin Eidelberg ’15, M.S. ’16, director of basketball strategy and analytics for the Washington Wizards, all digest mountains of player performance, salary and other data.

“Sometimes you have little discoveries that are only possible when you have access to the datasets that we do,” Mendelowitz says. “There’s this feeling of, you’re one of a few people who have done this kind of work and reached this conclusion.”

The Terp analysts let us peek inside their playbook.

While the Nationals’ World Series run in 2019 was “unbelievable,” it’s the nuanced breakthroughs each season that are most rewarding, says Mendelowitz, who studied applied mathematics at UMD. For instance, before MLB banned shifts, he made the extremely specific recommendation to use the defensive tactic more against left-handed hitters with a runner on first than with the bases empty.

“It feels great because you notice this small thing in the data, you have conviction about it, you recommend it to your team, it gives you a slight competitive edge,” he says, “and then two or three years later, the entire league is doing that exact same thing.”

A lifelong Baltimore fan, this software engineer who also studied math at UMD helped a young Orioles team put together a 101-win season and reach the top of the American League last year by wrangling data from every limb movement of every player into machine learning models.

“I like to joke that I get paid to watch baseball,” he says. “I really love programming and analytics and sports, and it’s great that there’s a field that combines all of that.”

Prior to February’s NBA trade deadline, the Wizards made two deals involving players and draft picks. But first, Eidelberg and members of the front office distilled a league’s worth of salary information to ensure compliance with its rules. It’s a job he’s dreamed about since serving as a student manager and graduate assistant for Maryland men’s basketball while studying management and marketing analytics.

“I love playing with numbers, and I didn’t know what the job entailed at the highest level,” he says, “but I recognized that in 2015-16, basketball was undergoing an analytics and information revolution.”


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