Technology disrupting an industry is hardly a new occurrence. Every so often an invention or re-application of tools in a unique way completely overhauls how companies within that industry do business. Those that refuse to adapt quickly enough tend to get left behind and die out. Although the MLB is a unique situation in the fact that those 30 teams are not in any danger of dying out, they can get left behind if they don’t adapt to industry disrupting technology.
My guess is that in a decade, many non-MLB organization baseball analysts will take for granted how big of a disruptor that the Rapsodo and Edgertronic truly were. Teams who don’t adapt will truly be at a significant competitive disadvantage that may be currently understated in the general conversation of the MLB.
The Rangers have recently publicly deployed these important pieces of tech at Spring Training and it gives us a good understanding of where the team’s thoughts are going in terms of improved data-driven player development. But why they are important and how the Rangers are going to use them is vital to the conversation, so let’s dive into what data these devices show and how teams can use them to improve their player development.
The Rapsodo uses radar to locate the ball (either thrown or batted) and prompts the camera on the device to rapidly take pictures of the ball. This process can track information such as spin rate, spin efficiency, trajectory, velocity, zone analysis, and release point information.
On its own, it provides key information that we already know teams are interested in. For example, the Astros’ search for players with high velocity and high spin rates before their current competitive window opened is well known and well-discussed.
Then we combine that with the Edgertronic.
The Edgertronic is simply a video camera that can record high resolution (1920 x 1080) video up to 35,000 fps. With that kind of fps, evaluators and analysts can see every small detail in a hitter’s swing or a pitcher’s delivery. No visual stone of a delivery is left unturned when a team of these devices are pointed at a pitcher.
The two devices in tandem is when things start to get exciting. Let’s create an example to show how these data acquired from these devices can complement each other to exponentially increase how useful each piece is in player development.
You have a young late round two-pitch pitcher who throws in the high 80’s whom you drafted because he is a good athlete, has a strong build, has a clean clean arm, and high raw spin rates. The Rapsodo can immediately tell you some of the places he needs to improve: his spin efficiency is bad on the breaking ball, and he doesn’t get a lot of out-front extension, so his effective velocity is even lower than the high 80’s mark that your radar tells you about. You know that without an additional offering or two, improvements to velocity and the breaking ball won’t be enough to put the player into a starting rotation at the MLB level. And although I’m over-simplifying, you’re goals for developing that player are:
1. Find the strength and/or mechanics adjustments that need to happen to improve both real and effective velocity
2. Work with the pitcher to increase spin efficiency to improve the breaking ball to its potential
3. Develop at minimum one extra offering that is effective at the MLB level that works well with their other offerings
4. Create a general strategy that will allow the pitcher to use his tools to maximum effectiveness in an actual game
The Edgertronic is an exceptionally useful tool in every single step listed above. Each part of the delivery can be broken down intensively with hundreds and thousands of unique shots that show where mechanical inefficiencies are happening. With a prosper understanding of where the deficiencies are, specific strength and mechanical training can begin for the player to fully recognize the effective velocity their body can produce with their specific biomechanical makeup. At each development stage, the pitcher can be re-analyzed, and development plans can be adjusted as needed.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Edgertronic gives us views into how different grips and arm actions produce effective spin on different pitches. If you can understand why a pitch moves the way it does for player A, you can more effectively teach player B that same pitch assuming other key markers, like arm slot and arm action, are similar. Let’s play you have a more advanced player who has similar physical markers to your drafted player, but also has a more effective breaking ball, 2-seamer, and changeup. You can teach your drafted player those grips and use the Rapsodo and Edgertronic to see how effective he is at translated those grips and actions into his repertoire. While using Rapsodo and Edgertronic in pitch development is still in its relative infancy, the possibilities for studying and improving those methods is exciting.
Lastly, the Rapsodo and Edgertronic allows you to develop more effective strategies, especially regarding tunneling, or the ability to release two or more different pitches from the same arm slot and trajectory so that the hitter has less patterns to recognize before needing to decide to swing or not. The Rapsodo picks up arm angle, release point, and the trajectory of the pitch. If your drafted pitcher becomes effective at throwing his fastball, breaking ball, and his newly developed changeup from the same “tunnel”, you can measure it and incorporate it into your game plans for the pitcher.
The applications above aren’t the full extent of the uses for these pieces of equipment. There are many more uses for the Rapsodo in pitching, such as strike zone visualization, and I didn’t even discuss the impact of the tools on hitting development.
While some of the above strategies may have generally been incorporated into player development long ago, the tools available now can greatly increase the effectiveness of those development plans. The Rangers incorporating these expensive tools into their system show us that they understand the effectiveness of these devices and how they could help improve something they’ve struggled with in the past in player development. Some players see rapid improvements with the implementation of plans around the data collected by Rapsodo and Edgertronic devices. While it may take a while for us to see the true scope of the impact of these tools, we could see individual successes soon.
Maybe it won’t be too long before the JD and the Rangers can finally get some pitch’n up in here.