Let's move on to our top candidates for the Cy Young Awards. Even though Cy Young voting has improved in recent seasons -- and by improved, I mean smarter results that more accurately reflect value instead of just wins -- wins are still an important consideration, if less so than even a few years ago. Last year, Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez were pretty dead even when you dissected all the numbers. In the end, however, I wonder if Kluber's 18 wins versus Hernandez's 15 were the deciding factor.
My top five Cy Young candidates in the American League for 2015:
1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
King Felix was already one of the best starters in the game and got even better last year -- in part, because Seattle's defense was much better than the disastrous 2013 unit, helping Hernandez lower his ERA from 3.04 to a league-leading 2.14. But he also had the best strikeout and walk rates of his career, allowed a career-low .200 batting average against, has pitched 200-plus innings the past seven years and has that changeup that should be sent to the Smithsonian. With a little better run support -- he had seven no-decisions and one loss in which he allowed zero runs or one run -- maybe he wins 20 for the first time.
He'll miss his first start but is on track to make his debut on April 12. If not for concerns about his durability, he may be No. 1 on this list, coming off a season in which he posted a 2.17 ERA and struck out 208 batters in 174 innings while allowing a .205 average. And if you bat left-handed? May as well call in sick. Lefties hit .165 off with him two doubles and zero home runs. All batters combined to hit just .138 against his slider, a pitch that has become one of the deadliest weapons in the sport.
3. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
He's absolutely the real deal and has picked up this spring where he left off, with 25 strikeouts, five walks and no home runs in 23.1 innings. He has that wipeout curveball when he gets to two strikes -- 126 of his 269 strikeouts came with the curve as batters hit .091 against it without a home run in 215 plate appearances. The biggest knocks against him are he has to prove he can handle 230 innings in back-to-back seasons and his fastball is still somewhat hittable as opponents hit .304/.361/.460 against it, with 11 of the 14 home runs he gave up. Still, if they start attacking it early in the count, he has the arsenal of pitches to adjust.
Because he split time with the Tigers and Rays, it's easy to overlook that he led the AL in innings and strikeouts. Considering he's a free agent and the Tigers aren't a lock to re-sign him, there's incentive for Brad Ausmus to milk as much as he can out of Price, so there's a good chance he leads the league once again in innings. The last couple of seasons, Price has cut down on his walks and improved his pitch efficiency to go deeper into games, but this pounding the zone has resulted in more home runs -- he gave up 25 last season, although maybe getting out of some of the smaller parks of the AL East will help.
Those first four were the easy ones to include. I know my pal Eric Karabell likes Carlos Carrasco of the Indians as a sleeper Cy Young candidate and I've mentioned Collin McHugh of the Astros as a sleeper, but Gray is the more reasonable selection. He went 14-10 last year with a 3.08 ERA, throwing 219 innings in his first full season. He knows how to pitch, he's competitive and the A's usually have a solid defensive team. Really, he just needs to cut down on his walks -- 74 a year ago -- to climb into that upper echelon of starters.