Together Forever: Baseball’s Longest-Tenured Teammates
The postseason lends itself to all sorts of narratives. There are team triumphs and individual stories, but this postseason features something special you might not have noticed: a few teammates who have been playing together for nine seasons or more. When Adam Wainwright took the mound for his Game 3 start against the Braves and threw a first pitch sinker to battery mate Yadier Molina (Ronald Acuna Jr. would foul that first pitch off, but ultimately strike out swinging), it was hard to forget that this may well be Wainwright’s final season, marking the end of a career during which so many of the right-handers best moments have come with Molina behind the plate. That first pitch got me thinking: which playoff teammates have been together the longest?
To answer that question, I turned to the game logs here at FanGraphs to find the first day both teammates appeared in a game together at the major league level. I also looked at how many total games each pair has appeared in together, which includes pinch-hit appearances, pitching in relief, and defensive substitutions. This does not include any time spent on the Injured List and only includes games in which both teammates made an appearance. I excluded the postseason for parity; the data is updated through the end of the 2019 season. So, before the Dodgers and the Nationals and the Cardinals and the Braves play their Game 5’s, let’s take a look at the longest-tenured teammates we can watch this October.
No. 5: Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran
Debut as Teammates: May 7, 2011
Kicking off our list is the pitcher/first baseman duo for the Braves. These two have been staples in Atlanta for several years now; this year Julio Teheran became the only pitcher in Braves’ franchise history to start six consecutive Opening Days. Freddie Freeman has been at first base for all of them.
Teheran was initially left off the Braves’ Division Series roster but when Chris Martin suffered an oblique injury, Teheran took his place. Now both he and Freeman are trying to push Atlanta into the Championship Series for the first time since 2001, though they’re likely both hoping for better individual performances in Game 5; Freeman, perhaps still hampered by an elbow injury, is slashing just .125/.222/.313 with a 38 wRC+ in 18 postseason plate appearances, while Teheran took the loss in Game 4 after giving up a walk-off sacrifice fly to Yadier Molina that scored Kolten Wong.
Total regular season games together: 200
No. 4: Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen
Debut as Teammates: July 24, 2010
Here we have the rare starter/reliever combination. Kenley Jansen is the longest-tenured single-team reliever in all of baseball, and Clayton Kershaw will probably wear Dodger blue for the entirety of his pitching career.
These two have been teammates since July 24, 2010, when Jansen made his major league debut. But their careers have been intertwined for far longer than those nine years. Kershaw’s first-ever save, one of just two in his pro-career, came in 2006 when he was playing in the Gulf Coast League. Who was behind the plate, you ask? Kenley Jansen, still then a catcher. They have been All-Stars together three times, from 2016 to ‘18, and have made the postseason as teammates in each of the past six seasons.
Total regular season games together: 120
No. 3: Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg
Debut as teammates: June 8, 2010
Our second first baseman/pitcher duo is a pair of Washington D.C. icons. Ryan Zimmerman has been a Nat for as long as the Nats have been the Nats, taken fourth overall in the 2005 draft out of the University of Virginia in the franchise’s first season after leaving Montreal. Stephen Strasburg made his debut in 2010, and it was one of the best debuts in the history of the game. Almost every big moment in Nationals history has involved one of these two players, if not both.
This year, the Nationals are trying to finally reach the Championship Series. This is their fifth trip to the postseason; they have famously lost each of their four previous Division Series. Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, as a pair, have competed together in three of those series. With Zimmerman’s contract ending after the season and Strasburg’s potential opt-out looming, this is likely the last time we will see these two share the field.
Total regular season games together: 137
No. 2: CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner
Debut as teammates: April 6, 2009
CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner both signed one-year deals with the Yankees for the 2019 season, adding to their legacy in the Bronx. These players have been in seven postseasons together including this year. Sabathia and Gardner were part of the 2009 Yankees team that won it all and, as Brett Gardner has said, they are still “searching for that feeling.” Perhaps this is the year they find it. It will be Sabathia’s final season, and what a better end than to bookend his time in pinstripes, and with Gardner, with another World Series championship?
Total regular season games together: 258
No. 1: Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina
Debut as teammates: September 11, 2005
By far the longest-tenured teammates in the game, they are the longest active battery in baseball and seventh all-time on the list of most starts by a battery. They share three NL pennants and have won a World Series together. When Wainwright was asked about his favorite moments as a baseball player, he offered three answers:
Game 6 2011
Game 7 NLCS 2006
Game 5 NLDS 2013
WS celebration 2006/parade. Wildcard clinch on gm 162 celebration 2011.
— Adam Wainwright (@UncleCharlie50) October 10, 2016
Yadi was behind the plate for all of them. He made the call to throw Carlos Beltrán that infamous curveball for strike three in Game 7 of the 2006 Championship Series. Yadi also guided Wainwright through a full nine innings to complete Game 5 of the 2013 NLDS. As for their October narrative this postseason? This may be Wainwright’s final season. Just like Sabathia does with Yankees, Wainwright has a chance to end his Cardinals career with another championship. But with the Cardinals facing elimination today, he might have thrown his final pitch.
These two have been part of nearly every big Cardinals moment of the past 14 years, and as Molina has said: “Waino is still my ace.”
Total regular season games together: 320
There are many narratives to watch for this postseason. Will Kershaw start a World Series Game 7 that Jansen closes? Will Yankees fans get to see Sabathia and Gardner hold a trophy again? Teetering on the precipice of elimination, has Adam Wainwright taken the mound for the final time? It is entirely possible that the longest-tenured battery in baseball has finally run out. Regardless, each of the five duos on this list is looking ahead to the same prize, and only one pairing will get it … if any of them do.