In the first installment of the grading process, we’ll look at the gold stars, the players that exceeded expectations.  As always, in the comments, feel free to beat your chest about who you were high on relative to the rest of fantasy baseball players!

Anibal Sanchez – I pegged Sanchez to be a sub-4.00 ERA guy with 170 Ks, and liked him over several guys (Happ, Holland, Niese, Hudson and Lackey) that were going well before him. I projected him to be the 52nd best starting pitcher, but with considerable upside. Well, Sanchez has eclipsed my K projection, has a 3.64 era and is the 49th SP. Not bad, eh?

Ian Kennedy – There isn’t anything more enjoyable than an ex-Yankee doing dirty things for another team…other than maybe a game winning bloop single off the best closer ever in game 7 of the World Series. I ranked Kennedy as the 43rd best starting pitcher, roughly 20 spots higher than most projections. I had him posting an ERA around 3.70 with 175+ Ks and liked him over: Niese, Garcia, Jurrjens, Jorge de la Rosa, Phil Hughes, and Brian Matusz. Well, Kennedy is currently the 10th best pitcher in fantasy with a dazzling 2.99 ERA and 182 Ks. For all kinds of reasons this one makes me happy.

Hunter Pence – I was all over Hunter Pence, touting him as the #11 outfielder going into the year with a .280+ average, 25 HRs and 15-20 SBs. While Pence has the under on homers and SBs, he has batted quite well: .312. Even though my projections were slightly off, he is the 11th best outfielder in the game, 10 spots better than where most had him.

Justin Upton – Obviously JUp’s talent makes it difficult to label him a “sleeper.” However I ranked him about 20 spots higher than consensus. I thought 2009 would be his floor for the next decade and that he would hit .285+ with 25 HRs and 18 steals. Well Upton, who I had at 20, is a top 12 player, and has put up a .294 average with 31 homers and 21 steals. I got him in a lot of leagues and I’m winning a lot of leagues.

JJ Hardy – I said Hardy would push 20 HRs and bat .270. Well, Hardy is pushing 30 HRs and batting .265. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Joe Mauer – I ranked Mauer as the top catcher, but had him 2+ rounds after most preseason analysts. I continue to think 2009 was the outlier of his career, given his BABIP and HR/FB rate that season. I said “Mauer is not a .360 hitter with 20 HRs. He is a .330-.340 hitter with 10 – 15 HRs – and that might be generous. Furthermore, it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll be more than an 85 run scored or producer given he’ll play at least 20 games less than regulars.” I suggested waiting and drafting Mike Napoli over Mauer – Napoli has outpaced Mauer in every 5×5 category.

Trevor Cahill – Calling Cahill a potential bust was like looking outside the window, noticing it’s raining, and saying the ground will likely be wet later. I had him as the 111th pitcher when he was comfortably going among the top 100 players in drafts. Well, Cahill is currently the 936th ranked player. In fact, he has performed so badly, that players who didn’t pitch at all this year are ranked ahead of him. I had Cahill at 130 Ks and a 3.67 ERA. Well, he has 140 Ks and a 4.31 ERA. I wasn’t pessimistic enough!

Mark Teixeira – The preseason Teixeira hate was obviously based on nuances. I ranked him as the 27th best player while most people had him in the top 15 or so. I thought Teixeira would be a .280 hitter with 35 HRs, 100 runs and 120 RBIs. Well, Tex is the 48th ranked hitter, has 87 runs, 37 HRs, 104 RBIs and has continued his downward average trend. He sits at .245 now. I told you not to spend a top 15 pick on him!

Drew Stubbs – I have been a huge fan of Stubbs for an incredibly long time now. I thought a 20-50 season was possible, with the floor being 20-30. Well, Stubbs is the 80th ranked player to date with 15 HRs and 37 steals. Looks like I was a little high on the HRs but otherwise, I’m pretty comfortable calling this a success. Stubbs is going to come in around the 25th best outfielder. I had him 17th; general consensus had him at 42. I’m closer!

Bud Norris – I’ve always liked Bud Norris because he brings it. I had him as the 114th ranked pitcher compared to consensus around 317. I own Norris and clearly undersold him, projecting 180 Ks, a 4.30 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Well, he sits at 176 Ks with a tasty 3.77 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. There have been some ups and downs along the way, but no one is arguing with his results to date.

Jhoulys Chacin – At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted Chacin over Derek Holland, Kevin Slowey, Jonathan Niese, Jaime Garcia, Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson. I said he was a lock for 160 Ks, a 3.75 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. He has a 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 142 Ks. I was right to tout him over Holland, Slowey (obviously), Niese, and Garcia, but not the hurlers from Atlanta. I’m very happy with Chacin though!

Seth Smith – I thought Smith would be a .280 hitter with 15-20 homers. In 2011, Smith has batted .282 with 15 HRs – not bad, remember always bet on black…jerseyed Rockies…or something to that effect.

Pedro Alvarez – While Alvarez was a consensus top 100 player and top 7 guy at 3b, I had him as the 21st 3b. Alvarez has been nothing short of a total bust. He is batting well below .200 and has just three HRs to his name. My advocacy for Aramis Ramirez over him makes me smile…and the whole world stops and stares for awhile.

Erick Aybar – I thought Aybar would be a very serviceable SB option, capable of stealing 20+ bags easy. Well, Aybar has batted .281 with 29 steals – not bad for a late round flier.

Danny Espinosa – In a perfect world, Espinosa was a 20+ HR guy with a .250 average and some steals. While the average hasn’t quite been there (he is hitting .236), he does have 21 HRs and 14 SBs. I’d be wary of him in the future – he just can’t seem to grasp what a strike is, but for now, 2011 was pretty nice.

Clay Buchholz – I didn’t predict doom and gloom for Buchholz, but I did say he had no business being in the draft day neighborhood of guys like Greinke, Scherzer, Haren, Billingsley and Marcum. I saw Buchholz landing squarely in the mid-3.00s for ERA with an unimpressive K-rate (maybe 7 per nine).  While he has been injured, Buchholz has an ERA in the mid-3.00 (3.48), and he has 6.53 K/9.

Aaron Harang – I can’t go a year without promoting Harang. Entering 2011, I saw him as a low 4.00 – 4.25 ERA candidate with 150 Ks or so. He is going to fall short in the K category (he has just 124), but his ERA (3.64) has been tasty.

Derek Holland – I called Holland a sneaky strike-out source who could have an ERA under 4.00. Well, he has a 3.92 ERA and 155 Ks. The Ks fall a little short of expectations, but otherwise, he was a damn good value pick!

Brandon McCarthy – I thought McCarthy could easily log 150 innings as the A’s fifth starter and post a sub-4.00 ERA. I didn’t think he’d wow you with the Ks, but as a late choice, he would pay big dividends. Well, McCarthy has a 3.26 ERA, 117 Ks and a 1.14 WHIP – I’d say he was well worth the price of admission.

Jordan Zimmerman – Before the season began, I wrote: I think you can expect a sub-4.00 ERA about 130 Ks and a WHIP in the 1.20 – 1.35 range for Zimmerman. Well Zimmerman has a 3.18 ERA, 124 Ks and a 1.15 WHIP.