South Carolina Baseball: The statistical truth about the Mark Kingston era in Columbia

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston is on a hot seat right now, and a look into the numbers explains why.
South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston
South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston is sitting on a pretty hot seat right now. The Gamecock skipper is no stranger to speculation surrounding his job security, but a solid season in 2023 had fans of the garnet and black cautiously optimistic that things could be returning to the way things are supposed to be in Columbia.

Unfortunately for the Gamecock faithful, the 2024 campaign has been one full of ups and downs. Winning back-to-back series against the Kentucky Wildcats and Missouri Tigers had Carolina in position to overcome those inconsistencies and host a Regional again. A face plant against the rival Georgia Bulldogs resulted in a home sweep for the first time since 2019, and instead of teetering on the Regional host line, USC now is flirting with NCAA Tournament selection altogether unless they can show up better for their road series against the #1-ranked Tennessee Volunteers this weekend.

The fanbase's displeasure with the state of the program is understandable. Kingston's tenure has resulted in the South Carolina baseball team's only non-winning seasons since 1996. Other than 2019 and 2022 (the two Kingston debacles), the Gamecocks had just one non-winning campaign since 1971.

In other words, in the last 54 years of baseball at the University of South Carolina, there have been three seasons in which the team failed to produce a winning record; Kingston's teams produced two of those three. His 2019 season saw Carolina finish with their worst conference record ever, an 8-22 embarrassment in which the team also finished with their second-fewest overall wins (28) since 1973; the only season with a lower number of wins was 2022 (27), which was also led by Kingston.

Magnifying the issue, the Gamecocks' struggles have been at their worst against top competition.

The most important games on the South Carolina baseball regular season schedule are SEC contests, the annual Clemson Tigers series, and the (usually) annual matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Against the border rival to the north, the Kingston-led Gamecocks have won four of six contests. There's nothing wrong with that.

In contrast to that, the Gamecocks' success rate against the Clemson Tigers is far worse. South Carolina has an 8-12 overall record against their Palmetto State rivals since Kingston took over ahead of the 2018 season. In those games, USC also has been outscored by 16 runs.

SEC play hasn't been kind to the 'Cocks during the Kingston era, either. Over the last seven seasons, South Carolina baseball has a losing record against the Georgia Bulldogs, Tennessee Volunteers, Auburn Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Ole Miss Rebels, Arkansas Razorbacks, and Texas A&M Aggies. Of the remaining six teams in the league, the Gamecocks have just a one-game advantage over the Florida Gators, Alabama Crismon Tide, and LSU Tigers and are tied with the Vanderbilt Commodores. Overall, Carolina is 83-93 in regular season SEC play, 2-7 in the SEC Tournament, and 1-4 against SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament.

During the Kingston tenure, player development has been a problem. Plenty of talent has made its way to Columbia (especially during the past several recruiting classes and transfer portal cycles), but that hasn't translated to the necessary on-field results. Only two Gamecocks have been named 1st Team All-SEC contributors (Cole Messina and Ethan Petry in 2023) since Kingston became the head coach, and zero players in garnet and black have made the All-SEC Defensive Team.

In the last 25 seasons, the Gamecocks have won 14 Regionals, good for a 56% rate of reaching Super Regionals. Kingston has won just 2, and even with the 2020 season not counting against him, another missed Super would put him at just 33%. In that same stretch, USC made it to the College World Series 6 times (24% of the time), while Kingston has not gotten to Omaha at all.

In the overall SEC standings, Carolina has finished in the top-6 just once under Kingston (a 6th-place finish in 2023). They've finished second to last twice.

And, somehow, beyond all of those numbers, the product on the field has looked and felt even worse than those results.

At the plate, the Gamecocks have been among the SEC leaders in strikeouts throughout the Kingston era (led the conference in 2023 and currently 2nd in 2024). A coach billed as an offensive guru who produces home run-filled lineups, Kingston has led zero top-3 SEC team home run finishes but one last-place finish. In OPS, Carolina has finished in the top-5 in the league just once but finished in the bottom-5 twice, including last place once.

They also have played below-average defense, and the pitching has been inconsistent. Other than a good showing in 2023, the Gamecock pitching staff has not had consistent command as they have been among the SEC's worst in allowing walks during the Kingston era. USC has finished in the bottom-6 of the conference in walks surrendered, including the league's worst mark twice. With an average finish in team ERA in the bottom half of the conference, the Gamecocks have been the SEC's worst once and only finished in the top-3 in the league one time under Kingston's leadership.

On paper, the South Carolina baseball program feels like it is stuck in some cruel form of purgatory in which national championship contention is impossible. On the field, it looks even worse than that.

Strange coaching decisions have plagued the Gamecocks over the past seven seasons. Bunting with hot hitters in the middle of the lineup, leaving pitchers in the game for too long, and making odd defensive moves have been standard in recent years. And the culture of "win anyway" that led to dogpiles in Omaha has all but faded away completely.

Kingston signed a raise and contract extension through 2027 last offseason, so that could complicate things a bit, but a missed postseason or a weak showing as a low seed could spell the end of the Mark Kingston era in Columbia.

*All stats compiled from*

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