On Tuesday October 27, 2022 at 1900 EST, Makakilo and I got to sit down with Brian Page and Brittany Zoet of Rapsodo in St Louis, Missouri. They graciously answered all the questions we could come up with over the course of the next 45-60 minutes. They followed up with additional information. We sincerely and heartily thank them for taking the time to talk with us. I speak for myself and Mak when I say that it was exciting, enlightening, and also slightly disappointing (but that’s mostly on me).
I’ll get the negative aspect out of the way first since it is small, and has only a little bearing on the rest of the article you are about to read. Originally tantalized with “Madison Bumgarner uses our products to help rehab his injuries and try to get better,” I was expecting to be able to deep dive into MadBum’s well documented struggles. Unfortunately they don’t discuss any details regarding specific players. In retrospect, my expectations were misplaced and too specific; never a recipe for success. Once I had adapted to the actuality of the interview, I found myself entranced in what Brian had to say.
This is Makakilo adding a brief comment. The interview experience required me to quickly move on from anticipating stories about Madison Bumgarner and capturing some amazing quotes (something that perhaps I enjoy way too much), to endeavoring to provide you, the reader, with lively and insightful material.
The following includes our questions, their answers, a few AZ Snake Pit perspectives, and some related internet material.
Question: For injury rehab in particular, at what point do you find the new normal instead of looking to reach previous normal?
Answer: Rapsodo does not have medical professionals on staff and does not work with teams’ medical staff either. The answer to this question should be posed to a team directly, as they will make these sorts of decisions themselves with input from all various parties involved (players, doctors, analysts, etc.). This point is likely variable and can depend on many factors, not the least of which are age and injury specifics. Rapsodo, for their part, is in the business of creating technology a player can use to collect advanced data that the group can then analyze together to make informed decisions regarding new normals.
Question: Do you have pitchers who utilize your hitter-oriented data as well? What data specifically do you find the pitchers’ use most effectively?
Answer: Players can see pitcher and hitter data with the new Pro 3.0 system. Most players are starting to see all of this data regularly, especially if they play against each other. Rapsodo can be used by young guys to adjust to MLB stuff.
Follow-up Question: From the Manual: the Pro 3.0 system categorizes sessions into types. Please, if possible, could you provide a few stories about specific players who have used the Raspodo for a specific purpose related to each of the five [six?] types of sessions. If names cannot be provided, maybe a specific story with the name withheld.
Email answer from Rapsodo representatives on session types:
Low intent - Utilized by players when they are ramping up for the season. Low intent sessions are commonly used for strike zone command. It is also common for low intent sessions to be flat-ground work. Pitchers often use the low intent sessions to watch the spin direction of their fastball. It is best for fastballs to be at 100% spin efficient.
Rehab - Madison Bumgarner used Rapsodo during the rehab process to monitor pitch characteristics. It is best when pitchers establish a baseline for each pitch in their arsenal. To get a baseline, a player must throw 15-20 of each pitch type. It is important that the pitches are thrown at full intent when the athlete is healthy. Madison would monitor his spin rate, velo and break on Rapsodo during rehab bullpens. The immediate feedback from Rapsodo allowed him to see when his pitches were performing like they were before injury. The baseline allowed him to monitor progress throughout recovery.
Pitch Design - used to either add a pitch to an arsenal or sharpen a current pitch. You will see Rapsodo’s on all bullpens during spring training when players are getting ready for the season. Rapsodo is giving immediate feedback to the player and coach in real time. Spring training is a good time to evaluate pitches. Pitchers will change grips to see if they can add velocity, spin rate and break. It is common to pair pitch design sessions using the Rapsodo video function. The slow-motion video shows the player and coach exactly how the ball is being released.
High intent - used when the pitcher is throwing at 100% intent. Players and coaches can use Rapsodo to filter session types. When filtering to all high intent sessions, the player and coach know that all pitches were thrown at max effort. This will be the data that is closest to live game performance. These can be the most important sessions for a player to evaluate how their pitches will act in the game.
Live on live - New session type with the Rapsodo Pro 3.0. The 3.0 is a dual pitching and hitting unit. It allows users to see pitched and batted ball data on the same screen. This allows both the batter and pitcher to see how they performed against live competition. When evaluating the data, a pitcher may find out that their curveball is getting hit hard but their slider is performing well. It also could give insight to where pitchers are getting the weakest contact in the zone. The hitter can review the reports/data in the same way. A hitter may discover they are hitting left-handed high fastballs well. On the other hand, they may realize they struggle with low breaking balls out of the zone. Live on live allows players to discover strengths and weaknesses that directly translate to game play.
Additional answer from an on-line manual: Certified Assessment – 15 pitch scripted session to analyze and evaluate each athlete. Must throw a fastball on base pitch, 5 pitches maximum. Will receive overall score of session and individual pitch scores once synced to cloud. It is unclear whether the scripted session is a session type.
Question: Who do you personally look to as a success story? Why?
Answer: Craig Breslow as he came back from injury and successfully signed with a team (he believed it was the Twins and I can find nothing to prove or disprove that detail). Trevor Bauer has always been a big data guy regardless of the troubles he’s experienced this decade. Miles Mikolas (currently of the St Louis Cardinals) has used Rapsodo products to design entirely new pitches. Dan Straily uses Rapsodo and experienced success overseas using the movement triangle (matrix); specifically, he focused on bigger break in his pitches, so hitters had to make bigger adjustments.
Also in response to this question, Brian offered up the following: Teams use data collected from Rapsodo to look at draft prospectus. Players will use data on pitches they fully understand to create new pitches in real time (Mikolas). The real time response is the real gem of the technology because Pitch Design is the biggest thing they offer baseball players.
AZ Snake Pit Perspectives: Three of these particular players had stints with Arizona. None stand out as unmitigated success stories, but none are Mark Melancon stories either.
Question: The Diamondbacks we know for certain use Rapsodo are (have been) Madison Bumgarner, Luke Weaver, Cole Calhoun and Bryce Jarvis. Are there others? Those 4 in particular haven’t exactly made waves in Sedona Red (good waves at least).
Answer: Weaver came in to learn about the data and played around a little. None of the rest were mentioned in detail. Buuuuuuuuuut, he did mention some others who are current users. Carson Kelly was actually in their office when he received the call that he’d been traded to Arizona (so that’s nifty). Other users Brian knew about but had zero connection to Arizona were Nico Hoerner (Cubs), RA Dickey (retired Cy Young winner), and Andrew Benintendi (Free Agent).
AZ Snake Pit Perspectives: The big fish for this one is Daulton Varsho. It was obvious once he came up that Brian did not wish to discuss the rest of the list (other than Carson Kelly but even that was a just a side note about the trade). Varsho was even a key spokesperson at their 2021 ABCA convention in Chicago. He also hit with Rapsodo technology in real time for participants to watch and understand what everything was.
In 2022, Dan Straily played for AAA Reno until being released on 1 August. His movement triangle was mentioned by Rapsodo – which means how far apart his pitches were/are on the pitching chart. Follow up investigation found a Baseball Prospectus quote from an advanced scouting report:
“Command is Straily’s calling card and he relies less on movement and velocity. Through the movement on each pitch is just average, the fact that the two-seamer has a bit of sink and the four-seamer has some arm-side run and each is thrown with similar velocity, helps Straily keep hitters off balance. He does not get a lot of swings and misses with his fastballs, but relies on weak contact. Grade 50” — Scott Delp, 7/21/2017
At least we have one unmitigated success story using their technology (Daulton Varsho). We’re unlikely to ever get a detailed account from the team of who does or doesn’t use Rapsodo and how it is applied. In this regard, we should tentatively assume most of the roster is encouraged to use it and the team then uses that data on an individual level to develop players. Unfortunately for fans, all we can see is the public facing side of this, and the dots we have to connect are not those of success stories. Basically we get Daulton Varsho’s breakout in 2022 and Carson Kelly’s small samples of excellent hitting. The rest is… better left unsaid here.
Question: Do you work with pitch coaches as well (and other developmental staff), or do you primarily focus on the players? If yes, how does this work?
Short answer: no not really. Long answer: yes sort of. Coaches need to understand what they are receiving from analytics, so they will sometimes reach out for clarification or lessons in how the technology works, interpreting the data, etc. The “next big thing” in Rapsodo technology and baseball pitching is Seam Orientation and that has been a big part of conversations held with coaches recently. Discussions between Rapsodo staff and coaches are common, but they almost never result in the creation of new data.
Spencer’s Perspective: We specifically brought up Brent Strom, and while it seems like Rapsodo works with the pitching coach, Brian can neither confirm nor deny their work with a particular coach. Based on this, we do not know if Strom is one of these coaches Brian discussed, though we all can see the value he brought to our rotation in 2022.
Question: Does a player who works with you give their data to you? Will Bumgarner’s pitch data be usable by a hitter in a year? Two? Ever? Another pitcher? Conversely, do you have to keep the particular name of the player off the dataset when others are using it if the player is still active? Is this seen as an unfair advantage to players coming after someone else has good through your program?
Answer. Clubs own the data. Plain and simple. Rapsodo houses the data on their cloud. Lower than MLB (and affiliated ball) gives their data in contracts signed when purchasing the technology, but not MLB. Players’ names are taken off the data if it is used in another capacity than for that particular player. In 2023, Rapsodo will branch into in-game data collection. When players look at historical data from others, averages are used. But most importantly, teams own the data. Not the player, not Rapsodo, teams. There is a caveat for players not currently with a team who use the technology – they own that data. But even that data is likely to be asked for by teams in contract negotiations. We also discussed the possibility that Rapsodo data could be part of trade packages for players since the team is under no known obligation to send the data with the player when he is shipped out.
Spencer’s perspective: Particularly on the trade side, I have been thinking of Rapsodo data in the same way I do player medical records. That’s to say, the team likely asks for it and sends it along when asked for. But it wouldn’t surprise me to know that copies of the Rapsodo data are kept for the team. This will be beneficial for opposition research down the line, but also can be used to train new analysts/coaches during onboarding. There’s too much value to completely give it up.
Question: Is spin rate an added dimension to “the movement matrix” that Art Chou talked about with Sean Testerman?
Answer: Algorithms transform data into 20 different metrics. A player profile is created for each box in a 9 box quadrant. The set of data becomes a baseline, which can help the player in several ways.
Question: Is spin rate a useful predictor of injury? The other side of the coin is: Do spin rate changes indicate an increased baseline performance level?
Answer: Rapsodo Disclaimer: The teams’ medical personnel are “on their own” [in deciding whether changes to the metrics indicate future injury or indicate return to full function.]
Related internet article. Spin rate changes may be a predictor of injury.
“From that discovery flowed others. “Spin-rate changes are actually one of the best predictors of injury,” pointed out Boddy, a fact that was confirmed as a known within many parts of the baseball community by multiple sources.” – Eno Sarris, March 2016 in FanGraphs article.
Related internet article. Madison Bumgarner ‘tried out’ Rapsodo while rehabbing from his finger injury per this internet article.
“In spring training, a line drive broke Madison Bumgarner’s finger.” During his rehab he gathered data with Rapsodo. It is unknown whether that data influenced decisions regarding his return. Nevertheless, Madison Bumgarner said, ““I was trying it out. I was just curious about it, really. It tracks everything: Where the ball goes through the zone, release point, it gets your hand coming through in super slow motion. You can adjust if you need to. You’re not going to get a better look at [your pitches]. It’s info to have, and that’s what I was curious about.”
Question: During injury recovery, is there a relationship between weight training and pitch training?
Answer: Weighted ball work is common. Band work is important too. The team will decide how to approach the physical based on what they’ve seen (variations from baseline) from the Rapsodo data.
Question: Could Rapsodo provide feedback on Madison Bumgarner’s rhythm? The Rapsodo website said,” Immediate video feedback. Analyze your pitching mechanics rep after rep in slow motion with immediate video feedback and Rapsodo data overlay.”
Answer: Yes it could. There are two choices - IPAD at 200-300 frames per second and a high speed camera (INSIGHT) at 1000 frames per second. High speed cameras have been used for pitch design including grip, to improve specific pitches, and to examine how the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.
Question: How important is control of breathing to pitching rhythm?
Answer. Do not know. Makes sense. Players are evaluated over time, so watching the breathing could be helpful. Rapsodo measures are strictly ball in flight - nothing about mechanics or physiology.
Each session can contain notes on what was tried that session, for example a new breathing technique was tried and the session metrics reflect results with that change. The MLB clubs would likely keep any successful discovery as proprietary.
Related internet article. Sometimes breathing can be a powerful tool per this internet article.
“A recent discussion with a major league pitching coach on this exact topic brought out an interesting exchange. ‘First time I asked one of my pitchers to nose inhale and mouth exhale on release, he looked at me like I was crazy,” the pitching coach said. “The first time he tried it in a game, he said his delivery felt smoother and it gave him something else to think about other than throwing strikes. He also said his ability to visualize his pitch flight was improved. Coincidence or not, he retired the side in six pitches—a rarity for him.’ “
“…We can use the power of breathing, and its effect on “recall and rhythm,” to our advantage by knowing that we always have four choices with each breath we take....” – Tony Abbatine, June 2019 in Baseball America article.