I had a zoom call with the GM-North America of Rapsodo, Art Chou. Rapsodo is a company that provides high-speed cameras that calculate spin rate, movement, command, and has the ability to break down mechanics. It provides instant feedback on exit velocity, launch angle, direction, and spin axis.
Art and I chatted about how technology has impacted player development, why MLB players reached out to him during quarantine, and the future of scouts.
John: When did you first introduce Rapsodo to MLB front offices?
Art: We first showed Rapsodo to MLB teams prior to spring training 2017. We showed it at the 2016 ABCA show as a prototype, so we really weren’t really shipping yet. The first validation was in 2018 with primarily the early adopters taking it in and making sure that it matched up to the Statcast data. Once they understood that the data correlated with PITCHf/x and TrackMan, they could start using it in a practice setting. When teams realized that the technology was portable and they could take it anywhere they wanted, it really started to mushroom.
John: During quarantine, Rapsodo saw an increase in sales. Why do you think that was the case?
Art: When Covid hit, our MLB team business stopped because people were furloughing employees and closing offices. But the individual player activity increased quite a bit, so we became a way for both pitchers and hitters to keep up at home and be able to track their own progress in their own backyard. We saw quite an uptick which we continue to see. We’re seeing an outreach of Minor League players because if you think about it, they have to stay active and keep training.
John: The book, ‘The MVP Machine’ really shed a light on Rapsodo and the player development revolution that is happening in MLB. Since the book published, have more people inquired about your products?
Art: I think that book was right along the way of helping it become more mainstream to where even the high school or casual coach now thinks ‘I better learn about this’. Dating back to 2018, we had an old coach come in and say ‘ I’m kind of like an old dog and I know that I need to have this on my resume, so please teach me what I need to know about your equipment.’
John: In sports technology today, it seems wearable technology might already be a thing of the past because cameras have become so effective. What type of information can cameras provide that wearable technology cannot for MLB player development programs?
Art: Our new insight cameras with high-speed video allow us to track exactly how the ball is coming through the air. Pretty soon you’re going to be able to identify your wrist and index finger angle based on your ball’s trajectory. Instead of doing it visually right now, soon it’s going to be two degrees or four degrees, so we’ll be able to tell you the necessary adjustments through training the computer with a player’s reps.
John: How does Rapsodo create a competitive advantage for MLB front offices once every club has the same data using the same technology?
Art: I think [that adoption] eventually will happen. Everybody knows how fast they throw the ball now. They’re all going to know each other's spin rates. The challenge is what do you do with it. The data is only as good as you can explain it to somebody. There will always be some additional benefit in the cause and effect. Right now, we’re giving you the data on the effect based on what’s happening to the ball. Now we’re starting to figure out a little bit of the cause and give hard data on it. Then maybe match it up to a Motus sleeve, K-vest, or we are doing kinematic analysis to track your hip rotation compared to elbow rotation. There is a lot going there and we’re barely touching the surface of that full cause and effect.
John: When do you think there’s going to be an automated strike zone?
Art: It’s only a matter of time. My feeling was that with Hawk-Eye, going to a fully optical system is actually closer to a fully automated system. My guess is that they will implement it very soon.
John: What is your goal for Rapsodo during the next five years?
Art: We started as an equipment manufacturer who made devices that provided quality data, but now we’re really a data provider. I think the real growth for us is what we do with the data to make it easy for people to understand. We want to use the data as a recruiting vehicle. When Covid hit, all of a sudden MLB teams are calling us asking for players’ data because their scouts weren’t able to come to any of their prospects showcases. That’s when we realized that we have a currency that can be used universally as a national database for player development.
We just released our national database where if you have a Rapsodo account, we will take your data and create a super score, which is the average of your best scores. If you’re a pitcher, we’ll take your top-five velocity that you’ve ever thrown on a four-seamer and create a super score. We created this big database and will list everybody that has a website account which is searchable by state, graduation year, right-handed, left-handed, pitching, etc.
John: How do you think all this technology impacts MLB scouts, what does the future hold for seeing and evaluating players?
Art: I think there’s always going to be a place for scouts and the human eye, but [I] think of the scouting process as a funnel. The idea is you want to get as much information as possible from top to bottom. You want to be able to make your decisions and data is going to help you get from 10,000 prospects down to 500. Then you want somebody to go put some eyes on that player to see what happens to them when they’re under pressure, how they react during in-game situations, how they treat teammates and how they deal with stressful situations. However, the top of the funnel is going to become more data driven because it’s a lot more efficient. Data is never going to replace scouts. They provide player information in a competitive situation live, during win or lose situations. There’s no data sheet I can provide that’s going to replace that.
John LaLoggia writes about baseball at Beyond the Box Score. Please follow him on Twitter @JohnLaLoggia and check out his comedy and sports writing at www.johnlaloggia.com.