A Five-tool Writer

In baseball, there is a phrase used to describe a complete ballplayer: a five-tool player.  First talked about in The American Diamond, by Branch Rickey.* The term has evolved from one used to describe an all-around athlete to one that describes a truly elite player. Statcast defines a five-tool player as one that excels at hitting (exit velocity ≥ 110 mph), hitting for power (home run distance ≥ 425 feet), fielding (route efficiency ≥ 98% ), throwing (throws ≥ 85 mph), and running (top base-running speed  ≥ 21 mph). With the help of Statcast, we’ve begun to combine statistics with five-tool ideology to create an elegant and objective way of identifying truly special players in an MLB field packed with talent. This got me thinking, has anyone tried to create an analogous tool set with statistics to describe writers? I asked the internet for answers and found there wasn’t much done. So, this is my attempt to propose the tools and requirements for a five-tool writer.

To begin, I searched for articles about the characteristics and qualities of a good writer. I wanted to make sure my proposition wasn’t going to be futile due to the subjective nature of “good writing.” What I found was that there are two ways to assess writing: directly and indirectly. My fears were assuaged as I learned they were isolated to the “direct” form of assessment.

If you’ve taken an English class, you’ve most likely experienced direct assessment of your writing. This happened when you turned in an actual piece of writing and received a grade. Direct forms of assessment are all based on scales of competency that rely on the grader’s opinion – usually based on the reader’s “expectations.” All other forms of assessment are categorized as indirect – a multiple choice test for example.

While direct measurements are the only sure way to know one’s true writing ability, it’s really hard to do. Even the College Board admits that using direct methods are difficult to standardize and conduct in a cost-effective manner. Since 2016, the written essay is now an optional section on the SAT, and most colleges don’t require it be taken – make sure to check if the school you’re looking to get into requires it. Thus, I concluded, for the purpose of describing a five-tool writer, only indirect measures should be used – at least until we improve our ability to directly measure writing. So, things on a typical writing rubric, like style and organization, would not be considered a part of this five-tool proposal.

In addition to being able to measure it indirectly, my only other requirement for something being a tool was that it needed to be essential to writing. Going over some basic linguistic theory, I concluded that writing requires words, grammar, the ability to read, and the ability to record. The tools I chose needed to affect at least one of these elements.

I came up with vocabulary as the first tool because you need to know the meaning of words before you use them. The second tool is grammar because you need to know how to arrange the words you know in a logical way so that it’s understandable.  The third and fourth tool go under the category of reading because both comprehension and speed are essential. Finally, the fifth tool is writing average in the form of recorded words per day (RWPD) because you need to put your thoughts into a recordable medium in order to be a writer as opposed to a thinker, talker, or reader.

In order to claim the possession of a tool, I attempted to use William Shakespeare as a baseline when possible (only twice) and copy Statcast by providing stats for each category that are considered exceptional for a human being – I wouldn’t take the requirements I proposed too seriously. The tools with their Shakespearian and Statcastian requirements as well as some fun assessments are below:


Definition: the writer understands the meaning of words used.

Shakespearian Requirement: Vocabulary size ≥ 66,534 words + Create ≥ 1700 words

Statcastian Requirements: Scores in top 1% on Vocabulary quizzes or have a vocabulary ≥ 30,000 words

Fun Assessments:

Merriam-Webster Quiz: https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-games/vocabulary-quiz

Oxford English Quiz: https://www.oxfordonlineenglish.com/english-level-test/vocabulary

Generic English Quiz: https://www.arealme.com/vocabulary-size-test/en/



Definition: the writer has mastery syntax, morphology, phonology, and semantics.

Shakespearian Requirement: > 100% to the point of ground-breaking.

Statcastian Requirements: 99.999% accuracy with the only exception being intentional rule-bending to demonstrate command of writing

Fun Assessment:

Oxford grammar test: https://www.oxfordonlineenglish.com/english-level-test/grammar


Reading with Speed

Definition: the writer can rapidly read.

Shakespearian Requirement: N/A

Statcastian Requirements: Reading speed ≥ 1000 words per minute (WPM) on paper or ≥ 700 WPM on a computer screen

Fun Assessments:

Random internet speed reading test: http://www.readingsoft.com/

Staples’ attempt at a speed reading test: https://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/technology-research-centers/ereaders/speed-reader/iframe.html


Reading Comprehension

Definition: when reading with speed, writer understands what is being read.

Shakespearian Requirement: N/A

Statcastian Requirements: comprehension ≥ 85% on the first pass when reading with speed

Fun Assessments:

Random internet speed reading test: http://www.readingsoft.com/

Staples’ attempt at a speed reading test: https://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/technology-research-centers/ereaders/speed-reader/iframe.html


Recorded Words Per Day

Definition: the writer is able to maintain a high daily average output of writing on a recordable medium.

Shakespearian Requirement: N/A

Statcastian Requirements: daily writing average ≥ 2000 RWPD

Fun Assessment:

Track daily writing in Google Sheets or a recording instrument of your choice.


Do you think you are a five-tool writer? If you think you are, send us your pitches at [email protected].


*Upon further investigation, the term “five tool” was never used in Branch Rickey’s The American Diamond. However, he does allude elements of a five tool player speaking about the importance power hitting, contact, defense, and speed.

Benjamin Shibata is not a five-tool writer by his unreasonable standards, but he has decided to write anyway. You should follow him on Twitter.