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Fantasy baseball mailbag: Pirates' McCutchen quietly joins elite tier

I'm Ray Flowers, co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Each week I'll be here answering questions that have been sent to me at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.

Would you move Justin Upton for Andrew McCutchen in a keeper league?-- @sfavree

Before the start of the season, most fantasy players would have told you that Upton was the higher ceiling player. Not that anyone was down on McCutchen, it was just that Upton was the guy they would have wanted. So far that hasn't even been close to being the right call.

Upton: .243-5-20-34-8McCutchen: .333-10-33-31-10

Small sample size? Well, how about we backtrack to the start of last season.

Upton: .278-36-109-139-29 with a .853 OPSMcCutchen: .277-33-122-118-33 with a .855 OPS

The plot thickens.

(1) The numbers say that since the start of last season that these two players are essentially the same.

(2) Age isn't a factor. Upton was born in August of 1987, McCutchen was born in October of 1986.

(3) There is no wrong answer to the question of which player is the one you want to build your squad around.

Upton is likely to be the more consistent power threat. If there is a player here who has a chance to lead the league in homers or RBIs, it's Upton.

McCutchen is likely to be the more consistent base-stealing option as the years progress, and that adds substantially to his fantasy value.

Honestly, you can flip a coin. Since I'm all about winning right now, even in a keeper league (more on that below), give me McCutchen, who is performing at a higher level this season.

I need some help. Eric Hosmer for Mark Trumbo and Alfredo Aceves in 10-team keeper league?-- @will_zme

Keeper leagues always fascinate me. Without knowing all the details of a league it's pretty difficult to give an accurate answer to any such question, but in general you have to ask yourself two main questions: (1) Is the goal to win this season? (2) Are you building to win in the future?

I'm of the opinion that if you can win this year, go for it. You don't know if you'll even be playing fantasy baseball in three years, and you certainly don't know if you will still be playing in the same league. Plus, with injuries and the inherent uncertainty of the game, why not go for it when you have a legit shot to hoist the trophy? That said, there is a third level that must be addressed -- how many players can you keep and for how long? The answer to any keeper question changes depending on whether you hold three, five, 10 or more players.

If you're trying to win this season you have to take the duo here. Trumbo has been out of his mind thus far, hitting .337 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. The batting average is a fluke. Trumbo doesn't hit enough line drives (19 percent) and strikes out too much (22.2 percent) to get a hit every three times he comes to the plate, and he simply won't be able to sustain his current .387 BABIP. I'd be looking at a significant step back there. I also wouldn't be shocked to see a minor decline in his homer rate, but he obviously has 30-homer power, so an outright drought isn't likely.

Aceves had a 10.29 ERA in April before rebounding to post a 2.89 mark in May as he converted eight of nine save chances. This season he has an impressive 9.73 K/9 mark, a number three batters above his career rate. He's also walking more batters per nine innings -- 3.77 -- than at any point in his career (2.81 per nine). He has offset some of that by generating more grounders than ever before, leading to an impressive 1.81 GB/FB. He will have to deal with the return of Andrew Bailey at some point, but for now he's a solid bet to continue to rack up saves even if his performance slips a bit.

Hosmer has hits in nine-straight games and finally appears to be putting his season back together. Hosmer still has a walk rate that is better than last season, his strikeout mark is also lower and his line drive rate and HR/F ratios are the same as his rookie season. I keep focusing on that .222 BABIP and think he's been unfortunate (you can blame the defensive shift that teams are employing against him for some of that, too).

I don't think anyone is going to argue with you that Hosmer is the better keeper than Trumbo, but if you're looking to win this season I think you should go with the Angels slugger and the Red Sox's current closer.

Give Andre Ethier, get Eric Hosmer. Fair? Other team needs outfield help.-- @scotsyl

I don't know why you would be offering an established high-level producer in the outfield who just so happens to be leading the NL in RBIs at the moment? Makes no sense to me. A career .292 hitter who ironically has hit .292 each of the past two seasons, Ethier isn't likely to slow down from his current .302 batting average. His .363 OBP is also just one point off his career mark, and the nine homers he currently has put him on pace for about 25 homers, right on the pace he averaged from 2008-10. Add in the fact that you say the other team really needs outfield help -- and if they do you need to be low-balling them to see how desperate they are -- and you're simply giving up way too much to acquire the Royals young first baseman.

When Emilio Bonifacio returns, who should I go with the rest of the season at SS -- Bonifacio, Dee Gordon or Jed Lowrie?-- @JohnnyHoey

Bonifacio likely will be out until the start of July following thumb surgery, so assuming this question begins right after the All-Star break ...

Emilio has the advantage of qualifying at third base, shortstop and the outfield, and that versatility offers a big boost to his value. He's also running wild under Ozzie Guillen with 21 attempts (20 successful) in 39 games. That's a pace for 80 attempts over the course of a full season, a massive number in this day and age. Given his approach at the dish that includes a career best walk rate, it's hard to think either of the other two fellas will be able to eclipse Bonifacio's fantasy value if he's truly healthy.

Gordon wants to be what Bonifacio is now. Gordon is hitting .230, and that's the highest his average has been since May 8 thanks to a five-game hitting streak. When you bat that low, you better bring something else to the table. Gordon is on pace for about three homers, 35 RBI and 60 runs scored, all awful totals for a mixed league player. He's also getting on base at just a .274 clip, and that's embarrassing for a professional baseball player. Since he never gets on base he's rarely running, so he's not utilizing his one fantasy asset, and without the stolen bases he's useless (he has only two steals since May 6).

Lowrie is the best hitter of the trio, but that doesn't necessarily mean he is the best fantasy option. May was an impressive month for Lowrie with six homers, 14 RBI and 15 runs scored, but that level of production isn't going to be sustainable for the Astros' shortstop. A career .258 hitter, Lowrie is batting .283 thanks to the best homer rate of his career as well as the highest line-drive rate he's ever had (22.4 percent). There are seeds of growth here with Lowrie, but he'll need to avoid two things that have always plagued him -- injury and inconsistency.

I'd go with Bonifacio, who gives you that versatility and the elite base stealing ability.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 5-8 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.

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