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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
In 2017, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Brendan McKay, a two-way player, and began developing him as a pitcher and a first baseman; he made his MLB debut as a pitcher and DH during the Rays' 2019 season.
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. 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.
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.
List of notable two-way baseball players
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.
At the college level, some players do play on both sides of the ball, especially the more "electric" athletes. 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.
- All-rounder, a cricketer who is skilled at batting and bowling
- Recordkeeping was poor during Day's career; league historians claim he won as many as 300 games.
- Nishizawa was primarily a pitcher from 1937 to 1943, and primarily a position player from 1946 onward.
- Akira Noguchi was primarily a pitcher in 1936–1937 and primarily a position player from 1942 onward.
- Biographer Kyle P. McNary estimates that Radcliffe had a .303 batting average, 4,000 hits and 400 homers in 36 years in the game.
- 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.
- 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.
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