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Meet Rapsodo, the baseball tracker helping the Blue Jays win

You may have seen them in spring training. Just what are they?

The hitting (left) and pitching (right) Rapsodo 2.0 units.
Provided by Rapsodo.

Some of the first pictures out of the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training this season were completely out of the ordinary.

There were players pitching and hitting, but also players standing, staring intensely at a tablet. There was the plate, but also a tripod, camera and box standing a few feet behind the catcher.

That camera and box contain more than meets the eye. It’s Rapsodo, a new baseball technology that tracks player performance and lets exit velocity, launch angle, spin axis and direction be accessed on a moment’s notice. It works by combining radar and imaging, capturing a brief, ultra-accurate part of the balls flight and projecting the rest of its trajectory.

It’s not something exclusive to the Blue Jays; this spring training, 29 major league teams used the tracking device. “Our last team is hopefully, knock on wood, going to be under contract here in the next few days,” Rapsodo North America GM Art Chou said on a recent phone call. “We hope,” he chuckled.

Matt Buschmann, the Blue Jays’ bullpen coach, discussed his use of Rapsodo earlier this spring with Mark Suleymanov of Sporting News, and many Toronto players use Rapsodo, including Ryan Tepera and Clayton Richard.

Rapsodo works in two parts: hitting and pitching. In Rapsodo 2.0, the recently released version of their flagship product, the two components — both small black-and-red triangular prisms — sit back-to-back 15 feet in front of home plate, with the hitting unit facing the batter and the pitching unit looking up at the mound.

That’s a change from Rapsodo 1.0, where the pitching unit stood on a tripod six feet behind the catcher. The set-up proved to be problematic, as there wasn’t always room for the unit and results could be skewed by wind. Now, with the unit on the ground, Rapsodo 2.0 is easier to set up and, while closer to the mound, can collect release point.

On each pitch or hit, data is collected and transferred to a connected device in four seconds. There, players and coaches can view velocity, spin rate, spin efficiency, horizontal and vertical break, and release point. Rapsodo’s instantaneous nature helps players improve instantly, from pitch to pitch, looking for specific, actionable metrics to change.

A screenshot of the Rapsodo 2.0 pitching interface.
Provided by Rapsodo.

Rapsodo is different from other tracking technologies because of its set-up. For both units, only a brief part of the ball’s path is tracked. For pitching, that’s about 40 feet of flight, and for hitting, it’s only the initial milliseconds of the ball off the bat. Rapsodo uses projections to predict the rest of the flight of the ball, setting it apart from the likes of TrackMan, Statcast or FlightScope, which track the entire flight of the ball — from the point it exits the pitcher’s hand to when it lands on the field.

“[Rapsodo] is taking a very accurate view of the images on a certain amount of the ball flight, then projecting out using aerodynamic models of the ball,” Chou said. “[We’re saying], here’s where it’s gonna go, as opposed to . . . tracking the entire flight of where it is in space at any given point in time.”

Rapsodo is one of the cheapest trackers on the market thanks to this method. Its market price sits at $4,000, plus a $500 per year subscription to a cloud service. That’s roughly 10 times cheaper than Trackman and FlightScope, but still a relatively large sum of money for some teams — especially high school teams.

“We have a decent amount of high schools [with Rapsodo], but for the ones that have a tight budget, it’s an issue,” Chou said. “While we are focused on the peak of the pyramid, the professionals, in terms of validating the data and making sure the data is accurate, we are really looking out at the bulk of the pyramid for our business.”

With Rapsodo 2.0 just released, the next step for Rapsodo is interpret the data it collects. “What does the data mean?” Chou said. “How does this make my life easier instead of more complicated?”

Part of this, in the future, will be what Chou called a “RapScore.” It’ll compare outings or at-bats from day-to-day, and where players stand in relation to their peers. “We’re trying to make what can sometimes be very complicated data very easy to understand and very actionable,” Chou said.

“We . . . have to be very careful in making the data more easy to understand, otherwise we’re kind of doing a disservice to the industry,” Chou continued. “We work very hard to get the data right, and now we need to work hard to make the data understandable.”