Home run genius visits campus

By The Beacon | February 14, 2012 9:00pm

Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, visits campus this Wednesday to discuss his technology

Greg Rybarczyk (The Beacon)

By Jason Hortsch, Staff Writer -- hortsch12@up.edu

Albert Pujols slowly rounds the bases after blasting a home run and ESPN helpfully displays the distance the ball traveled on screen. Any baseball fan is familiar with the sight, but is likely to take such a seemingly minor detail for granted.

For those wondering how such a technological feat is accomplished, the answer will be available on campus Feb. 22nd, as Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of this technology visits UP.

Rybarczyk remembers vividly how a Manny Ramirez home run at Fenway Park spurred him to develop his system. After the game, when he discovered that no official distance measurements existed for home runs, he was incredulous.

"I said to myself, ‘This is unbelievable. We can put a man on the moon and somehow I'm supposed to accept that we can't know how far this home run went?'" Rybarczyk said. "I decided to try and figure out how far it went."

Rybarczyk's background in math and mechanical engineering allowed him to quickly get to work on the project.

"I was a physics instructor in the Navy, so I was familiar with how to do trajectory analysis and projection," Rybarczyk said.

That wasn't all he did in the Navy. Rybarczyk also worked in a naval nuclear power program, which he credits with keeping him on his mathematical toes.

"In that occupation within the Navy, you are challenged on a daily basis to really understand how nuclear power plants work," Rybarczyk said. "You have to be very into mathematical intricacies."

It did not take long for Rybarczyk to develop his first version of the model.

"Once I got working, in two to three weeks I had an aerodynamic model for a flying baseball, including all of the forces that act on the ball as it leaves the bat," Rybarczyk said.

After maintaining his own online database of home run information since 2005, an agent who was a friend of Rybarczyk's was able to put him in contact with ESPN. After ESPN was satisfied with the accuracy of Rybarczyk's model, they agreed to a deal.

"After a series of negotiations, after the 2009 baseball season, we signed a contract," Rybarczyk said. "They have been using it on the air and all their different platforms since."

Rybarczyk is particularly pleased with the speed that his model can determine a home run's distance.

"Once you have the model down, you can pretty much come up with a distance for the home run by the time the guy gets to third base," Rybarczyk said. "It's very fast."

Rybarczyk was invited to speak at UP by Jeromy Koffler, director of Student Activities. Koffler heard Rybarczyk speaking on 1080 The Fan, and was immediately struck by the potential for Rybarczyk's research to garner interest among the UP community.

"I immediately thought his work was very interesting and could have appeal to math and engineering students, as well as sports fans," Koffler said.

While still a reliability engineer by day, Rybarczyk's model has offered him great exposure. His talents have been requested by everyone from major league teams to those just seeking answers about their current ballparks.

"I've done some contracting and consulting work for major league teams, other media outlets and other baseball information companies," Rybarczyk said. "I've done a little bit of consulting on ballpark design, answering some questions about the layout of their fields and how the likelihood of home runs would change with modifications to their field."

While the baseball analysis is not his full-time occupation at this point, Rybarczyk holds out hope that one day it can be.

"It's not quite my sole vocation yet, but I would love to get that point," Rybarczyk said.

(Kayla Wong | The Beacon)