Complex Simplicity

How Rapsodo Makes Understanding Your Game Easier

By: Marty Winkler

Originally Posted: 4/12/2019

No words may do a better job of encapsulating the mindset of baseball than this quote from the beloved movie classic, Bull Durham: “This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. And you catch the ball.” For players young and old, at any level of the game, managers have done anything they can to keep things simple for their players.

But with the rise of advanced data over the last few years, keeping things simple has become a difficult task. Statistics like Batting Average, RBI, and ERA are being replaced with stats like Exit Velocity, Spin Axis, and Pitch Break, making it easy for even the most avid baseball players and fans to lose site of the game’s simplicity amongst the complexity of the new data-driven age.

So how does one keep baseball simple while still being open to advanced stats?

It was here, on a random fishing boat, that the game found them.

Enter Rapsodo, the latest in machine learning technology that helps players understand the effect their pitch or their bat has on the baseball. All done in real time using readily available (and simple) equipment.

“It’s a small, compact unit,” explained Art Chou, the General Manager of Rapsodo North America. “Inside is a camera and a radar. The radar gets the velocity of the ball and the camera takes multiple exposures of the ball. Using this we can calculate spin rate, spin axis, trajectory, break, all of those things.”

And it’s not just the simple technology that’s used that separates Rapsodo from its competitors. Each Rapsodo unit comes with local Wi-Fi support, making for easy connections to any mobile device or tablet that will display ball data in real time.

“Nothing is attached to the ball,” said Chou. “Nothing is attached to the bats. There’s only about a four-second lag time between capturing the ball and when the data pops up on your screen.”

The focus on the easy collection and application of data is nothing new. Founded in 2010, Rapsodo’s vision has always been based around what they refer to as “computer vision,” or as Chou explains it, “Being able to take images off video and get performance data off it.”

They first started looking at golf and developed the first golf launch monitor, SkyTrak. After finding success in the golf realm, Rapsodo quickly started looking for ways to take their technology from the tee to the diamond.

“Baseball and softball just seemed like the next logical thing,” said Chou. “So as soon as the SkyTrak product was introduced, we immediately started looking at other applications.”

[W]ith us[,...] you throw the ball and five seconds later you have results.

It didn’t take long to bring their technology to the plate. Rapsodo first unveiled their baseball products at the 2016 American Baseball Coaches Association Conference (ABCA). A year later, they started shipping their first units, just two years after releasing SkyTrak.

Since first being released, Rapsodo has seen exponential adoption and growth within the baseball world. In 2017, only eight MLB teams had signed on to use the system. As we enter Spring Training for the upcoming season, 29 of 30 MLB clubs have adopted the technology, as well as nearly 500 baseball and softball programs at the college level.

“It’s obviously better than we were hoping,” Chou happily exclaimed. “I got a call from one of the teams working with us and they said, ‘Hey we are reviewing free agents and for the first time I got a proposal that asked for (the player’s) Rapsodo data’. So I think it’s a good sign that the data is already being used at the right level of play.”

While Rapsodo does provide applications for both pitching and hitting, Chou states that he most commonly sees their technology being used for what he calls “pitch design.”

“The idea with us is that you throw the ball and five seconds later you have results,” says Chou. “Coaches will look at the data, look at the spin rate, spin efficiency, and then make recommendations to their players on how to maximize their pitch movement and efficiency. I’ve been in sessions where coaches will have a player throw four or five pitches and in that short time, they are able to make adjustments that effect how that pitch breaks.”

While the data that Rapsodo collects is both useful and immediately available, Chou recognizes that the temptation can be there for players to overexert themselves in attempts to set personal records.

“Just make sure you are measuring real-world data,” explained Chou. “You need to make sure players don’t try to max out their exit velocity or they aren’t changing their swing to make the numbers look good. But again, that’s where our video can help. You can see if it’s a real-world experience.”

So, keep it simple. Like Rapsodo.