Last week, I had a phone call with Art Chou, the GM-North America of Rapsodo. Rapsodo is a company that specializes in ball-tracking technology for golf and now baseball. Rapsodo sells tracking devices that provide instantaneous data feedback to pitchers and hitters to improve their game. You can visit the Rapsodo website at the link below:
I was able to talk to Art about how Luke Weaver uses Rapsodo and some other things about the new technology. The transcribed call is below.
How Luke uses Rapsodo
Sean: So, you’re in St. Louis?
Art: Yes. We’re local St. Louis. So, we get guys that come by that are training, that live here, are training in the offseason. And then we’ll get some of the local Cardinals guys, sometimes even during the season if they’re off. … we have one MLB player-relations person, Dillon, that manages it all. And I think maybe a year-and-a-half ago, Luke came in one day and he threw. He’d never seen the device before, I think it was his first exposure - [he] had heard about it through the team or one of his teammates. He came in, did a little demo in our facility, and our guys took him through the data and how to use the data and he purchased the unit back then. So he’s been a user for at least one full season now, maybe a season and a half…
Sean: That’s something I need to look into. Because one thing is Luke had another breakout season before he got hurt last year. He was looking really good and had some impressive stuff. I wanna say we noticed some changes to his curveball and the way he was using his cutter. So I’ll need to look into that and see if we can kinda tie that to Rapsodo. Am I saying that correctly?
Art: Yes, yes. Yeah, the interesting part, I remember the first discussion we had with Luke… the whole discussion of what we call the “movement matrix”. So, they always talk about tunneling – you want every pitch leaving your release point to be looking identical, you want them all to be overlapping as much as possible with the release. And then as they get to home plate, you want them to diverge as much as possible, both in location, x-y location, and in velocity. Obviously, you want the ball to arrive at different locations at different times. So, one of our data outputs is, you throw a few of each pitch and you get this output on what your “movement matrix” is. Basically, how your pitches are all crossing home plate…
The first time you see it, it takes a little bit of time to digest. But I remember the light went on, [Luke] goes “Wait a minute, this means this is coming here, this is coming here…” and he got it and says, “Okay, so I wanna try to move this pitch this way or this one this way, right, to get them to have a bigger difference.” And I think that was part of what I remember: the conversation spurring his interest in using those metrics.
Sena: So one way we can describe it is, he’s using this technology to view his pitches from the batter’s perspective, something he had never been able to do before.
Art: He’s actually viewing it from his perspective, the pitcher’s perspective, but how they’re crossing home plate and how much they’re diverging. So he kinda get an idea if – I don’t remember the exact pitches, whether he’s using a cutter and a four seamer, trying to have them both look the same but split at the very end – and I know that he was intrigued with the idea of being able to quantify how much difference there was.
The Rapsodo feedback loop
Art: Yeah, so you can say, “look... you got six inches of horizontal break and 9 inches of vertical break difference between these two pitches” … it gives you this instantaneous feedback loop. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but the unit sits on the ground, you throw over it, it’s a radar and camera unit that’s tracking the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. So, as soon as you throw, I’d say about five seconds later, all the data pops up on an iPad. So, we have an iPad app and it communicates through a local Wi-Fi from the unit itself, up to the iPad. You throw and immediately you can tell where that pitch ended up and… if you’re not getting the break that you want, you can try something different. Either your grip, your pressure point and how you’re releasing it, or your hand action as you’re releasing it. Then you try it again and five seconds later you get the immediate feedback if that worked or not. And then you can compare all the pitches in your workout. So, he’s using that kind of feedback loop to get the maximum amount of break variation between his pitches, between his arsenal.
Sean: Okay, that’s really fascinating. I’ve got an image of the interface up right now that Brenna sent me, so I’m just kinda comparing what you are describing to what I see. It’s really nifty.
Art: Right, and it’s different for every pitcher. The whole idea is you want your pitches to be as different as possible. It’s not to say your slider should be “exactly like this”. No, your slider and my slider should be a little bit different depending on how we’re trying to disguise that and set that up with other pitches. You want to have the maximum amount of difference within your own arsenal.
How easy Rapsodo is to use on your own
Sean: It sounds like Luke has been able to do a lot of this on his own. Because you said he just bought a unit and it sends the data right to his iPad. Does he work with coaches at all that you know of?
Art: That I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what his offseason regimen is, where he’s working out. We have quite a few players that have purchased their own and they’ll set it up either at their own facility or their own home or if they’re with a local academy. And that is kind of the beauty of the very simple setup. All you need to do is setup your iPad – we have some guys that will just set their iPad on a tripod right next to the mound - and you turn everything on and you throw and just look at the iPad. Soon as you throw it, look over, count to 5, count to 4, and all of sudden it all pops up. And you can get instantaneous feedback by yourself. Basically, you can do it on your own.
The history and popularity of Rapsodo within the baseball community
Sean: How long has this been around?
Art: We introduced the first version, the beta version, in 2016. 2017, at the baseball coach’s show, was when we first really introduced and first started to ship product.
Sean: So we’re only talking a few years here and we’re already talking about major league pitchers using it regularly to improve their game. That’s fantastic.
Art: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. The first thing they wanna do is make sure the data matches up to the data that they’re getting in-game, from the Statcast data. So we make sure and show them how the data matches up, the data correlates very well. And then showing the instant feedback loop and that, right away… for the pitcher’s that are interested in the data, it gives them that immediate feedback. There’s gonna be some guys that really don’t want to look at the data as much. And that’s okay. But I think more and more of the younger guys coming up are used to seeing the data, are used to training with the data, and that want to be able to have basically every one of their workouts so they can track their numbers.
Bryce Jarvis and how young pitchers are using Rapsodo
Sean: Yeah, so that kinda leads me to one of the last second questions I sent you, which is: Zach Buchanan of The Athletic wrote that the Diamondbacks first round pick, Bryce Jarvis, was quote ‘fluent in pitch development technologies like Rapsodo’. The entire article was pretty much about how ever since he got to college, he was so much on the technology and data analytics side, and his fastball went up seven ticks in one year and he’s a first round pick. Did you work with Bryce at all or were you familiar with that?
Art: I’m familiar with the story, I honestly don’t know which academy he was working with. We have all 30 MLB teams, we have about 80-85% of all Division 1 programs now, probably close to 1000 academies out there have our equipment. It’s really becoming a standard language that used to be the old radar gun – you used to be able to get your velo. And now you’re getting your velo, you’re getting your spin rates, your spin efficiency, and your break. I think that the young pitchers nowadays are accustomed to seeing that and they’re accustomed to working out to specifically improve that. We like to say that “you cannot improve what you cannot measure”. So if you wanna make something better, you have to able to measure it first and then you can quantify the improvement level.
Sean: Yeah, I completely agree with you. So you said all 30 MLB teams are using it and 85% exposure into D1 college… you said also that there’s thousands of academies across the country, those would be amateur/youth baseball type of academies, right?
Art: It’s primarily built around youth development, but those are the places that major league players also will go to train in the offseason. Some of them that trained there when they were in college or high school… still train there. And then some of the academies are more targeted at youths, at the travel teams. They’ll generally have travel teams that they manage and practice out of that facility. They also give lessons and rent out facilities for other teams.
Sean: Sounds like you’ve got huge penetration into the market. It’s not just a select few MLB players that are using it. It’s youth to MLB; it’s used everywhere. This is something that MLB fans need to become regularly familiar with.
Art: It really is. We just had the draft... 73% of the players that were drafted had a Rapsodo, had Rapsodo data, [or] had a file. And if you think about it, the data, it’s so easy for that to be sent back and forth. It used to be in the old days you would have to have video. It was all video. You had to have video of a workout or game video and that footage takes time to go through. And it’s somewhat subjective in how you’re generating some sort of judgment off of that. And now, you still trade the video, but we supplement that with all this data… So all these players can send their basic typical average or top-line velocity, spin rates, breaks, spin efficiencies, to every coach in the country, just instantaneously. It makes the whole recruiting and drafting process a little bit more efficient.
Sean: Okay, so colleges and scouts are looking for this data, too?
Art: Yes, absolutely. Actually, our market was more to teams and to academies before it was to individual players. At first, we sold to MLB teams, colleges, and academies, and then I think it was probably year two that we actually had a few individual pitchers reach out. Actually, it was their agents that wanted it for them. I think the first push was, if you think about it, if the pitchers are throwing on the team unit, then the team owns the data. So the agents all wanted their own data that they can use for the player in case there was any sort of arbitration in terms of contract negotiations, they would have their own set of data in terms of how that pitcher was actually performing. So, it started with a few agents reaching out that wanted units for their own players and it mushroomed from there. I think we have over 200 MLB players that have their own units – on both the pitching and hitting side.
Other D-backs using Rapsodo
Sean: So, that kinda leads to my other last minute question – your website lists that there are at least two Diamondbacks, Madison Bumgarner and Kole Calhoun, that are listed as ‘Pro Staff’ for Rapsodo. Would those be examples of players with their own units and can you describe what ‘Pro Staff’ means here?
Art: Yes. The guys listed on our ‘Pro Staff’ are players that have purchased their own unit and in general what we do is – they’re actually buying it from us, we’re not paying them – but we give them a slight discount in order to be able to list their name as an official ‘Pro Staff’.
Sean: Okay, I follow you there. But it’s cool to there are more Diamondbacks that are using it that [we] might not have readily known about.
Using Rapsodo for hitting
Sean: Could we talk about the hitting side? We’ve kinda focused on the pitching side because of Luke Weaver, but you did mention that hitters use it too. Can you talk about what they might be looking at versus pitchers?
Art: Yeah, so hitting – think of the hitting monitor like a golf launch monitor. If you go to the range or go to the back of the golf store and you’re trying out clubs – you’re hitting balls and getting all the data. So the most important things are gonna be velocity – you obviously want to maximize your exit velocity as much as possible – and you want to maximize it across the entire strike zone. So, what we’ll do is whether you’re hitting off a tee, or whether you’re hitting soft toss, or you’re hitting off of live pitching, we give you all of that data and we can tell you what the incoming pitch velocity was, where that incoming pitch location was, and then all the outbound data. And the things the guys are looking for is maximizing exit velo[city], maximizing the percentage of impacts they have that are near their max – so basically how often do they make really really good contact – and then kind of their heat map – how are they doing that across different parts of the strike zone?
Generally, most of them will have varying strengths and some areas of weakness, and they’ll always obviously be trying to clean up their areas of weakness. And then the other is launch. If you’re trying to carry the ball, just like you’re trying to drive a golf ball a long way, you want to hit it hard - but you also want to maximize the launch angle and spin… Nowadays you see higher strike out but higher home run ratios, as a result of guys that are trying to launch the ball up higher so that you have more deep fly balls. It also means that generally… the potential for good contact – that the bat goes through the strike zone – is a little bit less, because you’re coming at an angle. But when you do get it, you have a higher likelihood for a longer, deeper fly ball.
Sean: Yeah, the launch angle revolution has been kind of this hot story, besides the juiced ball, for a couple of years.
The data revolution in baseball and Rapsodo’s history with golf
Sean: Is there anything else you would like baseball fans to know about Rapsodo?
Art: I think that the idea that data – let’s call it the data revolution – it’s definitely here to stay. We firmly believe that you cannot improve what you cannot measure. We also think that as you understand what you can measure, that the level of detail of how you can improve are only going to get better and better. So what used to be maybe you could only do at the Major League level, you’re going to be able to train as a high school or junior high player with the same level of efficiency or accuracy – being able to say, “place your index here, try releasing more evenly with your index finger, not your middle finger,” and you throw it and you get that immediate feedback. I think that type of knowledge is only going to get better and better and go younger and younger into the lower levels of the game.
And the other is that for the baseball readers out there, we have a very large business both in baseball and in golf. And we have been tracking ball flight now since 2011, so when the company first started coming out. The first product we came out with actually was a golf launch monitor. We actually tracked golf balls before baseballs. But the similarities of what you’re trying to do – in terms of optimizing the flight, controlling the curve, understanding spin rates, all that kind of stuff – whether it’s getting your slider to spin slightly different than your cutter versus whether you’re trying to hit a wedge high versus an eight iron low, it’s basically the same type of problem. Same type of aerodynamics in terms of controlling the spin of a ball and that it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time.
I would like to once again thank Art and the rest of Rapsodo for helping set up this interview. It was really fun to learn about Rapsodo and how common it is. I’ve actually seen this at some batting cages before never realized it was Rapsodo until now. It is a wonderful technology that will likely be more common in the greater baseball world in the near future.
To cap things off, here is a video of Luke Weaver using Rapsodo... to improve his golf game!