One common refrain states Drew Smyly is too valuable in the Tigers' bullpen to even think about moving him into the starting rotation in place of Rick Porcello.

It's an easy debate to build: With 23.1 innings pitched through Sunday's games, the left-hander has spent nearly as much time on the mound as Porcello, and he's pitched in a few tight situations this year as well. Smyly also has a 1.93 ERA and had struck out more than a batter per inning, both impressive figures.

There's no doubt Smyly's move to the bullpen has been a successful one, but has it actually been a valuable one? Don't confuse the two.

True value

Eating innings and keeping runs off the board does have some value. But let's be clear: Smyly's scoreless 5.2 innings on the mound April 20 after his team trailed 9-0 in the second inning was not nearly as useful to the team as pitching in extra innings a day later would have been.

Smyly's too good to waste in lost causes or mop-up duty, yet more often than not that's where he sees the action.

In his last four appearances, Smyly has entered the game when his team trailed three times, most recently with it down by three runs. He also entered a game where his team led 6-1.

Before stepping into the nine-run deficit in April, Smyly's role was more important. Each of those four games, he was handed a lead to protect and in all but one game did he go multiple innings while doing so.

That's the way Tigers manager Jim Leyland needs to continue using him if we're to actually accept the argument Smyly's most valuable position with the team is in the bullpen.