Do you love Yasiel Puig or despise him?
Do you marvel at the insane athletic ability or do you denounce him in disgust when he makes a crazy mistake on the field?
Do you like guys who play the game like a kid, undisciplined and enthusiastic? Or do you like your home run trots with heads down and a handshake at home plate?
Do you prefer Mike Trout or do you prefer Puig? Do you prefer the 1950s Yankees -- the U.S. Steel of baseball, cool and efficient, dominant and relentless, and maybe a little boring -- or do you prefer the 1950s Dodgers?
Maybe it doesn't have to be either/or, but it certainly seems like sides have been chosen. There is no more divisive player in the sport than Puig. I get that he is simultaneously electrifying and frustrating, that he makes great plays that few others can makes and makes boneheaded plays that no major leaguer should make. But regardless of how you feel about him, he is absolutely compelling. I'm not sure we'll ever see a player like this again in our lifetimes: So talented and so raw, a linebacker playing right field but with the ability and skill to perhaps become the best player in the game.
Thursday's game in New York will be added to the Puig legend. All this happened in the span of nine sometimes wondrous, sometimes astounding innings: A diving catch for the ages, an infield fly in which Puig either didn't know the infield fly rule or failed to pay attention, a bat flip to end all bat flips on a ball that hit the base of the center-field wall (welcome to Citi Field, Yasiel), Puig dancing off second base like Jackie Robinson and then madly dashing for third on a line drive to left field only to get caught off base.
First, the catch, as good a catch as you'll ever see. Look how far he had to run and then remember this is a 245-pound man running that ball down, not Usain Bolt. (Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner was caught completely off guard by Puig's making the catch.) Mets fans even gave him a standing ovation. But that play was countered by the infield fly mistake and getting doubled off second base.
Who does Puig compare to? The young Vladimir Guerrero was certainly reckless, especially with his arm. He was as likely to throw a runner out at home with a rocket from right field as he was to heave the ball into the third-base stands. Maybe he compares to Deion Sanders, at least in the love/hate aspect, but Sanders was never a star on the diamond. There was Bo Jackson, but Bo wasn't near the player that Puig is, plus everyone loved Bo, mistakes and all. Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose had their haters. A young Ken Griffey Jr. had the same dramatic presence, that "can't keep your eyes off him even if he's standing there in center field scratching his rear end" thing. A few others meet that criteria: Record-chasing Mark McGwire, unstoppable Barry Bonds. Not many.
I'm not even sure why we have to make these comparisons. Puig is one of a kind. In his mind, he's capable of anything on the diamond and that sometimes gets him into trouble.
The baserunning gaffes are a legitimate concern. Puig leads the majors with nine outs on the bases -- not including caught stealings and pickoffs, but including plays like getting caught off on a line drive or getting thrown out trying to take an extra base on a hit or wild pitch or trying to stretch a single into a double. Puig had 11 outs on the bases last year, one behind the league leaders.
The mistakes in the outfield are certainly a legitimate concern, especially the few balls that clanked off his glove this seasons.
But what goes unrecognized is Puig could win a batting title, although that has been largely ignored because of Troy Tulowitzki's hot start. He's hitting .331/.423/.607 with 10 home runs and he doesn't get to play half his games in Coors Field. And what goes largely unsaid is how smart of a hitter Puig has become. When he got off to that hot start after he debuted last year and then cooled down batting-average wise, many said that's the real Puig, a good hitter but not a .300 hitter. Too undisciplined.
Check his percentage of swings on pitches outside the strike zone for each month of his career:
June 2013: 38.3 percent
July 2013: 35.6 percent
August 2013: 33.2 percent
September 2013: 30.5 percent
April 2014: 27.1 percent
May 2014: 21.9 percent
That's a fast learning curve. It's what Bo Jackson could never figure out.
Where does this all go? That's what makes Puig the most intriguing player in baseball. Let's go along for the ride and find out.