Is it 2015 yet?
By bedtime on Sunday night, it might as well be. By then, the 2014 regular season and fantasy baseball season -- barring tiebreaker games, if they count in your off-site league -- will be in the books, and this columnist's attention will be squared firmly on next year.
As an aside, yes, of course I'll be paying attention to the playoffs. I'm a baseball fan. I love postseason baseball. But the fantasy analyst in me also knows that there isn't a second to waste preparing for next year.
That's not to say that every fantasy owner shares that sentiment. Some of you might want at least an October breather after a span of 180 days during which there was at least one scheduled Major League Baseball game that counted. I understand that; in fact I am here to help you feel more comfortable taking said break.
To do that, listed below are my preliminary 2015 fantasy baseball rankings, giving you an opening template for your winter draft preparation. Print 'em out, analyze 'em, dispute 'em, tear 'em to shreds, then make 'em on your own if you wish. Whatever your choice, consider this step No. 1 in the prepping process. And it's important to take that first step as far in advance as you can.
• These rankings are based upon an ESPN standard league, which means a mixed player pool (American and National League players), 10 teams and only one starting catcher, and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring.
• There's that word: Preliminary. These rankings aren't yet as scientific as will be the updates that come throughout the winter. They're based only off basic projections, and without the kind of in-depth, individual player analysis that could result in key shifts in either direction for certain players.
For example: My winter rankings process typically begins with, at season's conclusion, an analysis of the year's statistics, just to see whether anything might have been missed. From there begins individual player analysis; this can be anything from examining players' peripheral numbers (FIP, xFIP, BABIP, batted-ball rates, pitch velocity, quality of contact, etc.) to measuring players' improvement or regression statistically, to determining how far from his baseline I expect the player's ceiling or basement to be. Only then comes the kind of detailed 2015 projections and rankings that you'll see entering spring training; these tend to crystallize sometime around the time of our annual fantasy baseball summit in January.
Some quick thoughts
• The catcher position absorbed a couple of tough blows in terms of depth, with both Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana losing eligibility heading into next season. Even in what was a down year for both -- though that's debatable in Santana's case -- they nevertheless place 12th and fifth among catcher eligibles on the Player Rater with five days to play. It's one of the reasons so few catchers made the top 250, and it's a compelling reason to pick No. 1 backstop Buster Posey earlier than in 2014; that he's a .353/.402/.565 hitter since the All-Star break, continuing his torrid history of second-half success, is another reason. The case can be made he warrants a third-round pick in 2015.
• If it's not first base, Mauer's and Santana's new primary position, then starting pitcher is easily the one with the greatest wealth of talent. This topic came up on Wednesday's Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast; before we taped, I emailed co-host Eric Karabell this list of names that missed my top 75 at the position: Bartolo Colon, Hiroki Kuroda, C.J. Wilson, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Lohse and Matt Shoemaker. Shoemaker enters the final five days of 2013 the No. 28 starting pitcher on our Player Rater! Perhaps there are candidates from the list below who could be removed for him, but there certainly aren't many. I couldn't begin to make a case for Shoemaker over any of the pitchers ranked within the top 50.
• Relief pitcher drops off the table rather quickly, as the top four are practically set in cement, then there might be only four to six "sure things" at the position. Some questions we'll hope to have answered this winter: Does Jonathan Papelbon remain in Philadelphia, and if he does, will he close all year? How serious was Glen Perkins' season-ending injury? Where will Steve Cishek and Francisco Rodriguez play? This far off the start of 2015, it's a good time to speculate on talented arms who are hardly guaranteed closer jobs, which is why names like Wade Davis, Dellin Betances and Ken Giles are so generously ranked.
• What to do, what to do with speedsters Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon? Based upon 2014 returns, each makes a compelling case for second-round status. So why does Hamilton warrant only third-round consideration and Gordon sixth-round consideration, according to these ranks? Simple: It's their low walk rates -- 5.6 percent for Hamilton, 4.8 for Gordon -- that make them batting-average risks. Gordon's .345 BABIP is strong evidence of that, and I tend not to draft one-category contributors that generously.
Now, without any further preamble, here are my preliminary top 250 rankings for 2015: