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What is a Two Way Player in Baseball? Here’s the Answer!

Willie-Smith

Written by

Andrew Coatess

Sean-Hunter

Fact checked by

Sean Hunter

what is a two way player in baseball

A two way baseball player is a rarity in professional baseball leagues, so having one in a team is a gem. It takes extraordinary skills and expertise to become 2 way players in MLB and there haven’t been too many of them in the recent century.

What is a two way player in baseball? A 2 way player in baseball is simply a team member who can both pitch and hit. However, it’s not that simple to become one.

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Why is a Baseball Two-Way Player So Rare?

If you’ve played youth or high school baseball in your younger years, perhaps you got the chance to pitch, bat and play other positions such as baseman or outfielder in the same season. So you’re probably wondering why many people claim that a two way baseball player is something out of the ordinary.

Well, they aren’t really that scarce if we’re talking about Little League or college baseball wherein the distinction and rules regarding playing positions aren’t that stringent compared to the professional level.

Younger baseball players will normally want to explore every playing position to find where they excel best. In fact, it is common to find two-way college baseball players who are still contemplating which position to pursue in their professional career: a pitcher, a position player or a hitter.

When it comes to Major League Baseball, however, every team member must be designated as either a pitcher or a position player at the start of each season. Position players consist of the catcher, the baseman, and the outfielders, all of whom are not allowed to pitch except in specific game scenarios.

You need to be able to pitch and bat to be classified as a two way player in baseball, meaning you have to be a pitcher, to begin with. You also need to be assigned as a designated hitter in the active game roster.

The truth is, most pitchers are lousy hitters. It’s not that they never learned the art of batting; it’s just that the skill sets required for pitching and hitting are poles apart. To have a player on the team who is able to do both extremely well is like finding a needle in a haystack.

How Many 2-way Players in MLB Are Allowed Per Team?

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Baseball is played with nine players occupying different positions on the field but there are even more players sitting it out as backups in the dugout. Every MLB baseball team will usually have multiple relief players for all positions in case there is a need for substitutions.

  • There is no specified limit as to how many two-way players an MLB team can have. There is only a maximum number of players in baseball allowed per team, which is 26 for an active MLB roster and 40 for an extended roster.
  • Of the 26 players in each active MLB roster, there can be a maximum of 13 pitchers at the opening of the playing season.

Based on these rules, it is safe to assume that an MLB team can have a maximum of 13 two-way players as long as they meet the MLB two-way player rule.

What is the MLB Two-way Player Rule?

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Official MLB guidelines state that in order for team members to earn the two-way player designation, they must meet certain criteria. Specifically, they must have complied with two conditions in the most recently concluded or current MLB playing season.

  • First, the team member must have played as a pitcher for a minimum of 20 game innings.
  • Second, the same team member must have also played as a designated hitter or position player in at least 20 games. In addition, the player must have made at least three plate appearances in each of the 20 games.

Prior to 2019, there were no specific rules governing both the use of position players for pitching and the official qualifications of two-way players.

Substituting the pitcher for anyone in the team was rampant as there was no set minimum number of pitches one can throw in a game.

The MLB corrected this by requiring teams to designate players in their active roster either as pitchers or position players at the start of each season. Only those designated as pitchers are able to pitch except under these three circumstances:

  • The game goes beyond the standard nine innings.
  • There is a score difference of six or more runs.
  • The player has been designated as a two-way player in the active roster or met the current season’s criteria.

If a pitcher has been designated as a two-way player, his designation is neither that of a pitcher nor a position player. As a result, he is not counted against the maximum number of 13 pitchers on a team’s active roster.

Is the 2 Way Player in Baseball a Permanent Designation?

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MLB 2 way players don’t keep such designation throughout their career unless they continuously meet the criteria from season to season. Once they have qualified as two-way players, they keep the designation for the current season and the next.

To maintain the two-player designation, players need to pitch at least 20 innings in a season. Additionally, they must play as designated hitter or position player for at least 20 games and have a minimum of three plate appearances per game in that same season.

Once two-way players fail to comply with these benchmarks, they lose the designation and will have to start from scratch all over again.

Who is the Best Two-way Player in Baseball?

For the longest time, Babe Ruth was known as the best two-way player in the history of baseball. No other professional baseball player has measured up to his exceptional skills both as a pitcher and a hitter.

Enter Shohei Ohtani of the Lost Angeles Angels, who is currently making waves as a stellar two-way player in the modern-day MLB arena.

In 2021, the Japanese sensation ended the close-to-a-century glut on bona fide MLB two-way players and it looks like he’ll be taking the honors away from Ruth soon.

The 2021 MLB season saw Ohtani recording a combined total of 769 plate appearances and innings pitched to overshoot Ruth’s record of 676 plate appearances and innings pitched in 1918. That’s nearly a hundred more compared to the Bambino’s best!

Conclusion

So what is a two way player in baseball in its truest sense? A two way baseball player needs to fulfill certain criteria specified by Major League Baseball guidelines.

Besides having to pitch a minimum of 20 innings, MLB 2 way players must also assume the role of designated hitter or position player in 20 games or more. They also need to appear at the batter’s mound at least thrice in each game.

All these must occur in a single baseball playing season so it’s no wonder why 2 way players in MLB are far and few!

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