Courtesy of Di Zou
From Math Major to Major League Baseball
Di Zou (B.S. '09, mathematics) helps the Baltimore Orioles make data-driven decisions as the
team’s director of baseball systems
Written by Emily Nunez
Like many people born in Baltimore, Di Zou (B.S. ’09, mathematics) spent much of his childhood
at Camden Yards watching the Baltimore Orioles play. He fondly recalls one of his favorite
baseball moments: the second playoff game of the 2014 American League Division Series when
the Orioles defeated the Detroit Tigers.
“That was about as exciting as I’ve seen Camden Yards,” Zou said.
Now, Zou’s workplace overlooks that same stadium, and he’s doing more to help his hometown
team than merely cheering from the crowd. As the Orioles’ director of baseball systems, he
builds software and tools to manage a mound of data—everything from the trajectory of a ball to
the exact position of a pitcher’s wrist. Coaches, scouts and other baseball insiders use this data
to strategize and make informed draft decisions.
“Now that the season has started and there are games every day, I make sure all of the data is
getting imported and processed correctly,” Zou said. “We talk to coaches and scouts, and it’s
really cool to see them use the reports and the data we provide.”
Di Zou posed for a photo at Ed Smith Stadium, the Orioles' spring training stadium,
following an interview with the team's analytics department in March 2017.
He ultimately got the job and started work the following month.
Despite his lifelong love for baseball, Zou never planned to work in professional sports. He
always enjoyed working with numbers, so when he enrolled at the University of Maryland in
2006, he declared a major in mathematics.
It was only after taking a programming math class during his senior year at Maryland that Zou
started considering careers that melded math with computer science. He later learned that his
love of problem-solving could easily be applied to programming.
“I thought, ‘Well, if my favorite math class is actually a programming class, I should do
programming as a job after college,” Zou said. “Programming is sort of like a puzzle. There are
always challenges while writing code, and it’s a lot of fun to overcome these technological
issues and get the computer to do something for you.”
After graduating, Zou landed his first programming job at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in
Aberdeen, Maryland, where he provided cloud-based computing support. In the years that
followed, he went on to several software engineering positions—first in Baltimore and then in
the Greater Boston area—and he picked up a variety of technical skills along the way.
“There’s usually a lot of learning on the job for programming,” Zou explained. “I learned different
programming languages, computer science theory, how to efficiently do certain problems and
tasks, different types of software architectures, and how to handle a lot of data.”
As a fan of both numbers and baseball, Zou started following baseball analytics in college after
reading the book “Moneyball,” which told the true story of how the Oakland Athletics used player
performance data to gain a competitive advantage. Zou has been an avid follower of analytics
sites like Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus ever since, and in 2017, that reading paid off
when he saw a job posting for a developer in the Orioles’ analytics department.
“When I saw that, I thought, ‘Wow, this is right up my alley, and it would be cool to work for the
Orioles,’” Zou said. “I love baseball and I love baseball analytics, so I figured, ‘Why not?’”
Zou ultimately got the job, joining two others on the analytics team. He hit the ground running
and began building software and databases to help the Orioles manage a massive influx of
player performance data. Zou was named the manager of baseball systems in 2019 and
received another promotion to his current position in 2021.
During his six years with the Orioles, Zou has seen the team’s analytics department quadruple
in size. He says the demand for more sophisticated data in professional sports has risen
dramatically since he first delved into baseball analytics in college.
“When I graduated from the University of Maryland, sports analytics weren’t really a thing, and
there were not many sports analytics jobs,” Zou said. “Those jobs really started to take off in the
last six to eight years. It’s getting to the point where you can’t just have one person working on
Excel—you need to write all this dedicated software to handle the volume of data coming to
That data continues to grow. Through the use of radar and optical tracking, the MLB collects
data on every single pitch—and that’s just the start.
“At all moments, we know exactly where the ball is in space and time,” Zou said.
“At the major league level, we get measurements 300 times per second, so we know how much the ball
moves and how fast it is spinning.”
These technologies have become so advanced that the MLB now tracks the quick and subtle
movements made by players’ arms and legs.
“As the pitcher throws the ball, we know how fast his arm is moving, how fast his leg is moving,
where his ankle is, where his wrist is—that’s the type of data we get,” Zou said. “It’s hard to say
what the next big development will be. From a biomechanics standpoint, it would be cool to
know where a player’s fingers are on the ball. We don’t track that yet.”
Zou helps create and manage the systems that store this data, and he works closely with data
scientists who build machine learning and statistical models to make that information relevant to
coaches and scouts. He credits the mathematics program at UMD for giving him analytical skills
that have helped him succeed in this role.
“It helped with a lot of the critical thinking needed for what I’ve been doing,” Zou said. “Also,
since I now work with a lot of data scientists, the math background really helps with
understanding what they do.”
While Zou’s job is full of technical challenges, he relishes the opportunity to put his problem-
solving skills to the test and ultimately help the Orioles win more games. At the end of the day,
as he sits in his office next to Camden Yards, Zou is exactly where he wants to be.
“I like to joke that I get paid to watch baseball all day,” Zou said. “That’s the best part.”
Written by Emily Nunez