Numbers game

Freshman Matt Kane geeks out on baseball stats in his work as the Tigers' data analyst.

Matt Kane

Matt Kane, a freshman in the MU Honors College, studies all movements on the baseball field while serving as the Mizzou team's data analyst.

It could be said that Matt Kane hit a home run when he won a Show-Me Scholarship in 2016 and enrolled at Mizzou. Now he’s working on a triple — major, that is — in statistics, mathematics and economics.

The freshman from Chesterfield, Missouri, chose the disciplines in part because of his love for baseball and the numbers therein. Now, as the data analyst for the much-improved Mizzou team, Kane has taken his number crunching to the next level.

“The coaches have all these ideas in their heads, and if they want numerical support for something, I go through and pull up the data,” says Kane, who is also a student in the MU Honors College. “I’m like a wind-up toy. They’ll wind me up with ideas, and I go search and spit it back out to them.”

Kane uses Taylor Stadium’s newly installed TrackMan System, a military-grade radar that logs every movement on the field. The technology provides Coach Steve Bieser and his staff with an enormous reservoir of data, including the baseball’s spin rate, flight angle, velocity and launch trajectory if it’s hit.

Every Major League Baseball stadium is outfitted with the system, but only a handful of NCAA teams have it. Kane, who is already a master of the spreadsheet program Excel, logs in from his laptop and interprets the data in real time.

“After a game, one of the pitchers came up and asked about his spin rate,” says Kane, who last played baseball in the eighth grade. “I can tell you if the spin rate or angle is good. But how to adjust? That’s going to be coach.”

Kane became interested in sports data in elementary school, when he pored over box scores in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Then Michael Lewis’ groundbreaking baseball book Moneyball became a movie in 2011, and Kane was hooked.

“My high school math teacher and I designed a system to predict point spreads in the NFL,” Kane says. “March Madness was fun, too. We were very focused on objectively viewing games.”

Kane admits he sometimes zeroes in on the data so much that he’ll lose track of game’s context.

“I can tell you this guy had a great at bat here, or this guy watched a really bad pitch and he should have swung,” Kane says. “But I couldn’t tell you the guy went 0-for-4 and stuck out four times, or that he went 2-for-3 and went yard.

“You can get too caught up in the numbers.”

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