Nakonechny wins SABR Analytics Scholarship

by on February 15, 2014


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* Paul Nakonechny (Edmonton, Alta.), pictured here with Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, is the first Canadian to win an Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation SABR scholarship. …

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By April Whitzman

For many, statistics are cumbersome, tedious and challenging.

But for Toronto-resident Paul Nakonechny, they are thrilling and stimulating.

Especially baseball statistics.

“Every morning I wake up and someone has made a stunning finding related to baseball statistics,” said Nakonechny, 24, of Edmonton. “It’s a real struggle to keep pace, but completely worth it.”

Nakonechny has been enamoured with sabermetrics for quite some time. It’s for this reason that he never hesitated to apply for the Society for American Baseball Research [SABR] Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation scholarship the moment he found out about it.

“I didn’t really think I stood much of a chance of winning it, but I felt I didn’t have anything to lose but to try,” he said. ”I finished the essay and application and hoped for the best.”

In his application, Nakonechny wrote about how his acceptance to the University of Toronto came by way of discussing how former Toronto Blue Jays General Manager JP Ricciardi taught him about managing human resources before he even understood what ‘human resources’ was.

“The development, scouting, compensation, and labour relations issues teams navigate through year in and year out aren’t so different from what organizations in the corporate world face,” Nakonechny wrote. “It’s what motivated me to work towards a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto.”

During his studies, Nakonechny has been fortunate enough to receive the support from his professors to view complex organizational issues through the lens of baseball.

“Using MLB managers as a proxy, I’m researching how we can better quantify how managers add value to their organizations,” he said. “The research topic was in part inspired by comments made by Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer at last year’s SABR Analytics Conference.”

To his delight, Nakonechny’s background, education, passion, and application enabled him to win a scholarship.

“I was thrilled to be selected,” he said. “When I got the email confirming I had won a scholarship, I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t believe it.”

With generous funding from The Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation, Inc., the scholarship will grant Nakonechny and the three other scholarship winners the opportunity to attend the 2014 SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Az, March 13-15. The scholarship covers the cost of registration, transportation and lodging.

Nakonechny is the lone Canadian to win the SABR honour.

“There is some really incredible work being done north of the border,” Nakonechny said. “I was worried my application essay read more like a list of Canadian Sabermetricians who should be attending instead of me.”

The objective of the scholarship fund is to encourage student engagement with analytics, and to engender an active interest in baseball research and SABR. Nakonechny and his colleagues will get the opportunity to meet fellow SABR members and professionals within the baseball community.

Set to speak at the conference are Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, former major leaguer and ESPN Analyst Aaron Boone and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and the MLB Network, to name a few.

“I’m really excited to learn more about the analytics industry, especially from some of the guest speakers and panels that will be there,” Nakonechny said. “I expect the SABR Analytics Conference to provide the tools, contacts, and inspiration necessary to take an active role as the field of Baseball Analytics grows in Canada. And I’m really looking forward to be a part of that.”

But Nakonechny’s passion for learning more about analytics doesn’t stop at the conference. He has been taking online courses in data analysis and computer science from Johns Hopkins University.

“I don’t come from a technical background, but my list of baseball questions that I don’t have answers to is getting unmanageable. I’m excited to be putting the work in and starting to contribute to the field in a meaningful way.”

The Society for American Baseball Research encourages the study of baseball, and there’s no question that Paul Nakonechny is going to learn from this experience and grow his understanding of the game that he loves so much.

– Follow April Whitzman on Twitter @Alleycat17


April Whitzman
Growing up in Campbellton, N.B. on the Quebec border, April Whitzman's passion for baseball was passed on from her father, Steve. For years, April had to prove herself on the only ball team available – the men’s – and cheer for the closest team, the Montreal Expos, over a 10-hours drive away or watching French-language broadcasts. While April always had her sight on playing in the majors, she developed a love for the minors and began writing for after the Expos moved to Washington, April soon became a Toronto Blue Jays fan by proxy.

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