Throughout the 2016-17 offseason, Fish Stripes is counting down the Top 100 all-time Marlins, using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric as a yardstick. The 100th player on the list, Adam Conley, has accumulated a figure of 2.0 in a hair over one full major league season. Today’s honoree, Antonio Alfonseca, earned 2.6 through his six seasons with the team.
Affectionately known as "The Octopus," Alfonseca has an extra digit on each hand and foot. The right handed pitcher was used exclusively as a reliever with the Marlins, and was their primary closer from 1999 through 2001.
Born on April 16th, 1972, Alfonseca was a 6’5”, 250 lb. native of La Romana in the Dominican Republic. As with most eventual major leaguers from that location, he went undrafted, eventually signing a minor league contract with the Montreal Expos in 1989. He would slowly work his way up through Montreal’s lower minor leagues over the next few seasons, spending two years with Montreal’s Gulf Coast League affiliate, also named the Expos. He went 6-7 with a 3.77 ERA, a 1.376 WHIP, and 100 whiffs in 117.0 innings pitched covering 20 starts (and three relief appearances). He earned a promotion to the low-A Jamestown Expos in 1993, where he compiled a 2-2 record and a 6.15 ERA over 15 games, striking out 29 in 33.2 innings with a 1.574 WHIP to his credit.
The Marlins acquired Alfonseca in the 1993 minor league expansion draft, and the club designated him for assignment to Florida’s single-A affiliate, the Kane County Cougers in the Midwest League. He went 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA, a 1.147 WHIP, and 74 K’s in 86.1 innings of work. The following year would see him ensconced in the double-A Eastern League with the Portland Sea Dogs, where he posted a 9-3 record and a 3.64 ERA, along with 75 strikeouts in 96.1 innings and a 1.277 WHIP.
After a full season at the triple-A level with the International League’s Charlotte Knights in 1996 produced middling results (14 games, 13 starts 4-4, 5.53 ERA, 51K’s in 71.2 innings, 1.507 WHIP, time on the DL), the club moved him to the bullpen for the 1997 campaign. He was much better in relief, going 7-2 with a 4.32 ERA, a 1.337 WHIP and 45 whiffs in 58.2 innings of work. The Marlins called him up to the majors a few times through the season, where he posted a 1-3 record and a 1.792 WHIP, allowing opposing batters a .324 average and striking out 19 in 25.2 innings pitched.
1998 saw Alfonseca take on a larger role, as a middle reliever and setup man for the Marlins, he managed to save eight games. He finished the season with a 4-6 record and slightly improved statistics, a 4.08 ERA, a 1.528 WHIP and 9.6 hits allowed per nine innings. Over 58 games, he amassed 46 strikeouts in 70.2 innings. On June 8th, he pitched scoreless 12th, 13th, and 14th innings in an eventual 4-3, 17-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays. He struck out six batters in the outing, allowing only two baserunners (both singles).
In 1999, Alfonseca took on the role of primary closer for Florida, saving 21 games and finishing with a 4-5 record and a progressive career best of 3.24 ERA. He had a 1.391 WHIP and struck out 46 batters in 77.2 innings, leading the Marlins with 73 games pitched. May 20th would be his defining moment of the season, when he earned his first victory of the year in a 14-inning, 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alfonseca pitched three scoreless, hitless, walkless innings for the win, although he did plunk two batters.
In 2000, Alfonseca led the NL with 45 saves, posting a 5-6 record with a 4.24 ERA. He was honored with the NL Rolaids Relief award and even earned a few MVP votes, finishing 22nd in the balloting. He had a 1.514 WHIP and K’d 47 over 70 innings over 68 games in total. On May 12th, he pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out the side and earning his 12th save of the season, 6-4 over the New York Mets.
2001 marked the first season in which Alfonseca did not finish with a losing record. He finished with a 4-4 record, 28 saves, and another career best in ERA, at 3.06, along with a 1.346 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 61.2 innings.
Just prior to the 2002 season, Alfonseca was traded along with Matt Clement to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Cueto, Ryan Jorgensen, Julian Tavarez and Dontrelle Willis.
He is second on the Marlin's all-time save list, with 102. He compiled a 19-25 record with a 3.86 ERA for Florida in a club-third 307 total games.