From the DSI to the Dodgers

Most kids just ask for a kiss goodnight at bedtime. But when Mike Voltmer was six, he asked his dad why Tino Martinez’ batting average dropped after a Yankees game even though he went one for three.

And as a high school baseball player, he was the only player on his team to keep track of his spray chart throughout the season, and to calculate his splits by month and times through the order.

“I got hooked on sports early on, and I always had a particular interest in statistics,” he said. “As a kid I would turn to the back of the USA Today where they kept all the stats and I would come up with my own rankings.”

Voltmer kept up his numbers game as an undergraduate studying economics, computer science, and sports administration. He planned to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference as an undergraduate, knowing the opportunity to meet sports analytics students and industry leaders would be a boon for his future, but was not able to get there. Following graduation, he began work for the Brown-Forman Corporation as a data analyst.

But he wasn’t satisfied “finding out how many bottles of Jack Daniel’s we’d sell in a certain market,” and knew he wanted to combine his interests in data science and sports.

“I had my sights set on UVA even before the Data Science Institute was created,” Voltmer said. “When I saw a tweet that Don [Brown, Founding Director of the DSI] got funding, I emailed him immediately.

“I trust UVA’s name, it’s reputation, and even if it was a program that was kind of new, I knew that the value of my program would only increase over time.

Admitted to the Master's of Science in Data Science program in 2015, Voltmer gained access to one of the country’s leading academic and applied research training programs in data science. While at the DSI, he learned about machine learning, text mining, neural networks and other data science tools and techniques. But he still wanted to combine his interest in stats with his interest in sports, and put his growing knowledge of data science to that task as well.

“The MSDS is really well set up with applied data science opportunities through the capstone projects and a focus on cutting edge tools and technologies in data science like machine learning and text mining.,” he said.

Using part of the professional development award given by the DSI to all MSDS students, Voltmer also was finally able to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. And while there he did more than discuss RBIs and ERAs, Voltmer used the opportunity to network with potential employers.

And on the day he presented his MSDS capstone project on using neural networks to mine unstructured text data, he received a call from a connection he made at the conference offering him a job with the L.A. Dodgers. Voltmer cites the DSI’s academic focus on technical data science, like data mining, modeling and machine learning, as integral to his success and part of the reason he chose the program.

“The faculty are creative and the coursework, while covering a lot of ground in a relatively short time period, was engaging and extensive,” Voltmer said. “I was not only really learning data science tools and techniques, I was enjoying doing it.

“I wanted more formal training and best practices, and I knew the MSDS would get me where I wanted to be.”

Now, in addition to playing in the Dodgers annual employee softball tournament, Voltmer works as an analyst in the Baseball Operations department for the team. He may not be physically on the field at game time, but there’s no doubt he’s helping the Dodgers win games.

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