Two-way player

In sports that require a player to play on offense and defense (such as basketball and ice hockey), a two-way player refers to a player who excels at both. In sports where a player typically specializes on offense or defense (like American football), or on pitching or batting (like baseball), it refers to a player who chooses to do both.


Commonly used in basketball, a two-way player excels at both the offensive side of the game and the defensive side of the game.[1][2]

Some of the best two-way players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) have been awarded the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kevin Garnett, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only Defensive Player of the Year winners to have also won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) during their careers; Jordan, Olajuwon, and Antetokounmpo won both awards in the same season.


In the National Hockey League (NHL), the term two-way forward is used for a forward who handles the defensive aspects of the game as well as the offensive aspects of the game.[3] The best two-way forward is presented with the Frank J. Selke Trophy. The term two-way defenseman is used to describe a defenseman who also makes contributions on offense.[4]



Two-way player Shohei Ohtani

In Major League Baseball (MLB), there are few true two-way players, as position players generally do not pitch, and most pitchers are poor batters. In the American League especially, the two-way player has mostly ceased to exist, as the designated hitter (DH) rule allows a team to have a designated batter bat in place of the pitcher. In the National League, pitchers still have to bat for themselves, but they are usually poor batters. In 2017, the average batting average for all of MLB was .255. The average batting average for pitchers was .124, significantly worse than the league average.[5]

Babe Ruth is the last player to pitch 100 innings and have 200 plate appearances as a batter in the same season. Two-way players are still common in college baseball, with the John Olerud Award being given to the best two-way player of the season. However, by the major league level, a player is usually better at either pitching or batting, and rarely is given the chance to do both.[6]

Effective with the 2020 season, "two-way player" became an official MLB roster classification. A player qualifies once he reaches the following statistical milestones in either the current or the immediately previous season:[7]

  • At least 20 MLB innings pitched.
  • Appearing in at least 20 MLB games as a position player or designated hitter, with at least 3 plate appearances in each of the 20 games.

Once the player qualifies, he retains two-way status for the remainder of the current season plus all of the next season. Two-way players do not count against the limit of 13 pitchers (14 for regular-season games after September 1) on a team's active roster instituted in 2020, and also are not subject to restrictions on pitching by position players that were also introduced in 2020.[7]

For the 2020 season only, statistics from either 2018 or 2019 could be used to qualify a player for two-way status. This allowed the Los Angeles Angels to classify Shohei Ohtani, who did not pitch in 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, as a two-way player in 2020.[7]

Recent playersEdit

In 2017, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Brendan McKay, a two-way player, and began developing him as a pitcher and a first baseman;[8] he made his MLB debut as a pitcher and DH during the Rays' 2019 season.[9][10]

Shohei Ohtani, a two-way player as a pitcher and outfielder, moved from Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB in 2018 and became one of the few players to hit and pitch professionally. He has been used as a DH on days that he does not pitch.[11][12] Ohtani was named the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year after being the first player since Babe Ruth to hit at least 20 home runs and pitch at least 50 innings in the same season.[13]

Michael Lorenzen, a former two-way player at Cal State Fullerton, has played as a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He often gets called on to pinch hit or pinch run, especially in games in which he does not pitch. Starting in 2019, Lorenzen has also seen time in the outfield. Occasionally, he plays the outfield in games he has pitched after being relieved.[14]

Brett Eibner as batter and pitcher

Other major league teams have begun to try out some of their prospects as two-way players, including Anthony Gose, Brett Eibner and Trey Ball.[8][15][16]

List of notable two-way baseball playersEdit

Player League Team(s) Years as
two-way player
Wins Losses ERA Batting
HRs RBI Notes
Nixey Callahan MLB Philadelphia Phillies
Chicago Colts/Orphans
Chicago White Sox
1894, 1897–1903 99 73 3.39 .273 11 394 Pitched a no-hitter in 1902
Leon Day Negro leagues Baltimore Black Sox
Brooklyn/Newark Eagles
1934–1946 67[a] 29 4.51 .285 3 67 MLB Hall of Fame
Martín Dihigo Negro leagues Cuban Stars (East)
Homestead Grays
Hilldale Giants
New York Cubans
1923–1928, 1930–1931, 1935–1936, 1945 26 19 2.92 .307 64 227 MLB Hall of Fame
Hideo Fujimoto JBL/NPB Tokyo Kyojin
Chunichi Dragons
Yomiuri Giants
1943–1948 200 87 1.90 .245 15 151 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
Fumio Fujimura JBL Osaka Tigers 1936–1938, 1944, 1946, 1948, 1950–1951 34 11 2.43 .300 224 1,126 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
Masaru Kageura JBL Osaka Tigers 1936–1938 27 9 1.57 .271 25 222 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
Kim Seong-han KBO Haitai Tigers 1982–1983, 1985–1986 15 10 3.02 .286 207 781
Michael Lorenzen MLB Cincinnati Reds 2015–2019 20 21 4.06 .235 7 24
Michio Nishizawa JBL/NPB Nagoya/Sangyo/Chubu Nihon/Nagoya Dragons/Chunichi Dragons
Gold Star/Kinsei Stars
1937–1943, 1946–1947[b] 60 65 2.23 .286 212 940 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
Akira Noguchi JBL/NPB Tokyo Senators / Taiyō / Nishitetsu
Hankyu Braves
Chunichi/Nagoya Dragons
1936–1937, 1942–1943, 1948[c] 49 40 2.54 .251 61 572 Brother of fellow two-way player Jiro Noguchi
Jiro Noguchi JBL/NPB Tokyo Senators / Tsubasa / Taiyō / Nishitetsu
Hankyu Braves
1939–1943, 1946–1952 237 139 1.96 .248 9 368 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
Shohei Ohtani NPB Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 2013–2017 42 15 2.52 .286 48 166
MLB Los Angeles Angels 2018, 2020 4 3 4.39 .281 44 133
Ted Radcliffe Negro leagues Detroit Stars, Chicago American Giants, St. Louis Stars, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, New York Black Yankees, Brooklyn Eagles, Cincinnati Tigers, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays 1929–1935, 1937–1939, 1941–1944, 1946 32 30 ? .278 19 97[d] Known as "Double Duty Radcliffe"
Bullet Rogan Negro leagues Kansas City Monarchs 1920–1929, 1933, 1935, 1937 119 50 3.68 .338 45 199[e] MLB Hall of Fame
Babe Ruth MLB Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Boston Braves
1914–1921, 1930, 1933 94 46 2.28 .342 714 2,214 MLB Hall of Fame
Junzo Sekine NPB Kintetsu Pearls 1950–1957 65 94 3.43 .279 59 424 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame
George Sisler MLB St. Louis Browns 1915–1916 5 6 2.35 .340 102 1,175 MLB Hall of Fame
Willie Smith MLB Detroit Tigers
Los Angeles Angels
Cleveland Indians
Chicago Cubs
1963–1964, 1968[f] 2 4 3.10 .248 46 211
Doc White MLB Philadelphia Phillies
Chicago White Sox
1902, 1909–1910 189 156 2.39 .217 2 75
Rick Ankiel MLB St. Louis Cardinals 1999–2001, 2004 13 10 3.90 .240 76 251 Ankiel was the first player since Babe Ruth to have won 10 or more games in a season, and to hit 50 career home runs.

American footballEdit

In the National Football League (NFL), there are few two-way players, as most offensive players do not play on defense and vice versa. A major concern is the possibility of injury when a player is "overused." In the early years of the NFL, two-way players were more common, as part of the one-platoon system, but it is now a rarity.[21]

Patrick Ricard is an example of a recent two-way player in the NFL, playing both as a fullback and a defensive lineman in 2017.[22]

At the college level, some players do play on both sides of the ball, especially the more "electric" athletes.[23] While he was at UCLA, linebacker Myles Jack also played at running back, and he was awarded both the Pac-12 Conference Offensive and Defensive Freshman Player of the Year.[24]

See alsoEdit

  • All-rounder, a cricketer who is skilled at batting and bowling


  1. ^ Recordkeeping was poor during Day's career; league historians claim he won as many as 300 games.[17][18]
  2. ^ Nishizawa was primarily a pitcher from 1937 to 1943, and primarily a position player from 1946 onward.
  3. ^ Akira Noguchi was primarily a pitcher in 1936–1937 and primarily a position player from 1942 onward.
  4. ^ Biographer Kyle P. McNary estimates that Radcliffe had a .303 batting average, 4,000 hits and 400 homers in 36 years in the game.[19]
  5. ^ Historian Phil Dixon puts Rogan's lifetime totals against all competition, including semipro and Army teams, at more than 350 games won, 2000 strikeouts, 2500 hits, 350 home runs, and 500 stolen bases.[20]
  6. ^ Smith also played two seasons with the Nankai Hawks of the NPB (in 1972–1973), but primarily as a position player; he only pitched 1/3 of an inning.


  1. ^ Schuhmann, John (August 16, 2017). "Taking stock of best of best two-way players in NBA today". Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  2. ^ Paine, Neil (July 11, 2016). "Farewell To Tim Duncan, The Greatest Two-Way Player In Modern NBA History". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  3. ^ Prewitt, Alex (October 2, 2019). "Double Duty: The Value of a Two-Way Forward in Today's NHL".
  4. ^ Macfarlane, Steve (August 27, 2016). "Ranking the 10 Best 2-Way Defensemen in the NHL for 2016-17 Season". Bleacher Report. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  5. ^ "2017 MLB Team Position Performance by BA".
  6. ^ Miller, Doug (December 6, 2017). "Ex-two-way prospects assess Ohtani's future". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "Rule changes announced for 2020 season". February 12, 2020. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Justice, Richard (May 24, 2018). "Shohei Ohtani clearing path for 2-way players". Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  9. ^ Topkin, Marc (June 29, 2019). "What a debut for Rays rookie Brendan McKay in 5-2 win".
  10. ^ "Ex-Blackhawk star Brendan McKay goes 0 for 4 in hitting debut with Rays". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. July 1, 2019.
  11. ^ DiGiovanna, Mike (February 14, 2018). "Angels' two-way player Ohtani will pitch and be a DH, but he won't be allowed to slide head-first". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  12. ^ Miller, Sam (April 3, 2018). "Should Shohei Ohtani stay a two-way player? Exactly 100 years ago, the Red Sox faced the same question with Babe Ruth". Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  13. ^ Schoenfield, David (November 13, 2018). "Angels' Shohei Ohtani beats Yankees' duo to win AL Rookie of the Year". Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Kram, Zach (September 17, 2019). "The Reds Are Refining the Optimal Approach for a Two-Way Player". The Ringer.
  15. ^ "Ball getting new life as two-way prospect". Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  16. ^ "Texas Rangers: How Rangers landed Anthony Gose, a two-way player who plays outfield and pitcher | SportsDay". Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  17. ^ McNeil, William (2000). Baseball's Other All-Stars: The Greatest Players from the Negro Leagues. McFarland Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 0-7864-0784-0.
  18. ^ James, Michael (1995). "Hall of a shame: Fame finds Leon Day too late for legend to walk through shrine". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  19. ^ McNary, Kyle P. Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball's Negro Leagues (Minneapolis: McNary Publishing, 1994).
  20. ^ Dixon, Phil S. (2002). The Monarchs 1920–1938. Sioux Falls: Mariah Press. ISBN 1-893250-08-3, p. 212.
  21. ^ Santorosa, Tony (March 8, 2012). "NFL's Best Two-Way Players of All Time". Bleacher Report. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  22. ^ Hensley, Jamison (August 23, 2017). "Patrick Ricard looking to become NFL's sixth two-way player of the past decade". Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  23. ^ Greenawalt, Tyler (November 17, 2015). "Two-way players make a resurgence in college football". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  24. ^ Foster, Chris (December 2, 2013). "UCLA's Myles Jack is chosen Pac-12 freshman of the year — twice over". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 10, 2018.

External linksEdit